Georgia strawberries respond with the Growers Program

Steve Esh is pleased with the quality and production of his strawberry field. "Definitely foliar feeding the plants with GMS and using 10 tons of lime to bring the cation exchange capacity to an average of 88% calcium across the 3 acres made the difference for a successful season this year."


Steve Esh of Georgia is pleased with his strawberry results
Steve Esh of Georgia is pleased with his strawberry results using the Growers Program.

Steve was so excited about his strawberry production he wrote a story for the Growers Solution newsletter.  He also spoke on the August 2011 Growers conference call.  Click here to listen to his 24 minute talk:




By Steve Esh 
(Original article in The Growers Solution Summer 2011)

(Steve Esh is a Growers Representative from Montezuma, Macon County, Georgia which is not too far west off of I 75 about 1/3 of the state north from Florida. Eds.) 

We are growers of 3 acres of strawberries, 3 acres of peaches and pecans along with some onions and sweet corn on a 17 acre farm with a red clay loam soil.  We purchased the farm in 2010 which had not been producing well for the previous owner.  So in the fall of 2009, while the farm purchase was in negotiation, we convinced the owner to apply 5 tons of high calcium limestone per acre which he did a week before the strawberries were planted.  Also before planting the owner applied dry fertilizer according to the University soil test recommendations.  We finalized the farm purchase in March of 2010, just in time for four weeks of foliar applications at the rate of 2 gallons of Growers Mineral Solutions (GMS) and 4 oz. of Growers Nutritional Additive (GNA) per week before harvest.  The fertilizer injection system was broken so no fertilizer was applied through the drip irrigation.  The experts all said the crop would fail with no nitrogen running through the drip irrigation.  Sure enough, 7 days after the patch was opened for picking, the plants started growing runners for new plants.  We called the previous owner to find out what may be going wrong.  He told me we are not applying enough nitrogen.  A plant tissue analysis revealed all nutrients were at correct levels except boron and sulfur which were just slightly below normal levels.  We were told the plants would quit producing berries and there wasn't much that could be done.  Ed Bulcher (southeast Growers rep) recommended we foliar spray 4 gallons of GMS with 4 oz of GNA per week.  We did this and continued to do it for 6 weeks and produced an additional 10,000 pounds of berries off 3 acres.  The plants had runners everywhere but berry production was sustained by the increased amount of GMS and GNA applied.  We also picked berries a week longer than other strawberry farms around here.   We later found out part of our problems had been due to our plants having undergone a lot of stress during shipment and planting.  The severe cold and late winter also contributed to plant stress. 

Multiple ripe strawberries on each plant of Steve Esh's.
Multiple ripe strawberries on each plant. Steve Esh of Georgia.

Convinced the Growers concept should work, we applied another 5 tons of high calcium limestone immediately after the plants and plastic were removed.

In the fall of 2010, when the plastic was laid, we applied 100 pounds per acre of methybromide as a fumigant.  For planting on October 13, we made up a transplant dip by mixing 100 parts of water to 1 part of GMS into which we dipped the roots when transplanting.  During the daylight hours the first 2 weeks after transplanting, we constantly watered the plants to keep the plant leaves from drying out.  Seven days after transplanting we applied one gallon of GMS/acre and continued this twice a week for 6 weeks (until Thanksgiving.)  

Ten  days after planting we were pleased with the results.  The previous owner told us, "The way these plants look you did something right to have this much color left in the original leaves and to have this much new growth already."   During the months of December and January, we applied two gallons of GMS/acre/month.   This was applied in temperatures above 50 degrees just before a prediction of cold temperatures.  Our first bloom was December 5, and by January 5, 10% of the plants were blooming.  In January, temperatures went as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit and the last frost was February 18.  During this time the plants continued to bloom although blooms were lost to frost.  On February 21,  we began applying one gallon of GMS per acre twice a week, and, to the spray once a week, we added  4 ounces of GNA.  By March 6, we had our first ripe berries.  No doubt the 10 tons of calcium lime and the energy from the GMS applied just prior to the cold weather really kept the plants warmer than expected.  Anticipating hard freezes we had three rows covered with frost protection cloth, but we never saw a difference in production and plant quality, so we definitely will not do that again.  Too much work and cost for not seeing a difference.  

Ed Bulcher and Steve Esh in his strawberry field 2011
Growers district manager, Ed Bulcher and Steve Esh inspect his strawberry field.

We were very pleased to be able to open our market and start selling strawberries two weeks earlier (March 19) than our neighbors.  At the peak of production we were picking a gallon of berries from about six feet of row.   And, because the berries are large and tasty, customers keep coming back for more.  One comment we heard was, "It is so much fun picking so many huge ripe berries in so little time, I could hardly stop picking."

After peak production tapered off, we applied an additional 8 oz. of  GNA/ac to the plants for one week and then back to 4 oz. the rest of the time.  We also increased the GMS applications to 1 gallon per acre 3 times a week.  Our berry size and quality increased again after we did that.  This year I never applied more than 1 gallon of GMS/ac at a time.  I feel applying less, but more often contributes a lot to consistent plant growth, winter hardiness and real good fruit production as well.

We did not use any dry fertilizer on this field, although four days a week (during production) we did add to the drip irrigation 2 quarts of a sea kelp/ fish meal (4-3-3)  fertilizer.  We did this to help increase organic, bio-life stimulation in the soil.  Did it help?  I don't know, but it felt good, I guess, knowing I was putting something back into the soil after putting methybromide into the soil as a fumigant.  But definitely foliar feeding the plants with GMS and using 10 tons of lime to bring the cation exchange capacity to an average of 88% calcium across the 3 acres made the difference for a successful season this year.  I will definitely give God credit, as well, because the plants were well prayed for.  After our financial loss the first year, we needed this crop to get back on our feet.

Yesterday my two closest competitors closed for the season.  I should be able to be open at least two more weeks. (Late word from the middle of May, Eds.)


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