Wisconsin fruit grower Eric Carlson pays twice the price of conventional fertilizers to feed his half-acre of transitional-organic blueberries with composted poultry manure, augmented with elemental sulfur, potassium and magnesium. He calculates that those blueberries need a half-mile of weeding every two or three weeks — a full mile if you figure both sides. The semi-load of mulches he buys each year suppresses his annual weeds, but perennials like sorrel and quackgrass — the latter so tenacious he's come to admire it — persist. At $8 an hour, Carlsons hand weeding costs five to 10 times as much as herbicide treatments.
"I know what I'm getting into, so I'm starting small," says Carlson. Fortunately, he has an urban customer base willing to pay what it costs to grow organic blueberries.
Because Carlson sells 95 percent of his fruit right on his Bayfield County farm — 70 percent of it pick-your-own — he also has customers eager to sample novel scab-resistant apples like Jonafrees, Redfrees, Priscillas, Pristines and Liberties. He doubts that would be case if he were selling his apples wholesale. Fortunately, his direct-market emphasis allows Carlson to take risks growing diverse varieties that other producers would be reluctant to try.
Carlson, who earned dual bachelor's degrees in horticulture and agronomy from the University of Wisconsin in 1983, first began following his dreams in 1989. That's when he left a seven-year job at the UW fruit pathology laboratory to grow his own hardy blueberries. Reared in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, he chose 40 "exceptionally beautiful" acres on a finger of northern Wisconsin that juts into Lake Superior. Gradually, he expanded to 3 acres of blueberries, n acres of raspberries, an acre of fresh-cut and everlasting flowers and 1,200 apple trees.
Was this article helpful?