The Story of Winterberries at Hat Trick Farms
Before we start into why we started growing winterberries here at Hat Trick Farms, lets answer the first question: What are Winterberries?
Winterberries, also know as ilex, are a deciduous type of holly. They are native to northeastern North America and are mainly for ornamental use. Once the leaves drop in late fall the bright red berries are a show stopper in gardens or cut for holiday decorating.
Our Winterberry Story
Nick learned about winterberries while living in New England one summer during his college years. He was helping at a local nursery there and the owner grew winterberries. Spending several days removing weeds from the winterberry patch, Nick wanted to know more about this "winterberry" crop he was working in and what they were used for. The owner explained that the berries turn bright red in the fall and once the leaves dropped he sold them for holiday decorating. The owner's comment to Nick was, "if I had more land, I would plant every acre into winterberries". That sparked Nick's interest, knowing that we were in the process of purchasing the Home Farm from Mom & Dad and looking for new crop ideas, so he brought the idea to Paul and I. After some further research we planted 1000 winterberries in the fall of 2008 after the corn crop was harvested and that was the beginning of winterberries here at Hat Trick Farms.
Fall 2008, winterberries planted into corn stubble.
Learning, Learning, and More Learning
The next few years were all about learning more about this new crop we had planted. We cut them in different ways, to test how they would grow back and tried many different watering and weeding options. There was a lot of trial and error, but a couple years down the road we had a field of red winterberries ready to harvest. That lead to a whole new learning curve understanding the market and where to sell these brilliant red berries once we harvested them.
Field of Winterberries - 3 or 4 years after planting - ready to harvest
We tried golden winterberries too...they were unique, but in the end we choose to stay with red winterberries only.
Golden Winterberries - we tried these for a few years too.
Harvesting is a manual process. With a good set of hand pruners we head to the field and clip branches. We've got quite a system now, but it wasn't always that way, the first year we had a trailer of tangled stems. Now it's more of an assembly line with each person having a certain job from cutting to packaging. Teamwork is key.
We have tried many methods of selling winterberries over the years too. From attending farmer's markets, wholesale deliveries, workshops at local halls and sales from our office boardroom. Today our marketing focus is direct to you from our website and on-farm holiday shop. We enjoy having you visit our farm for a few weekends in late fall for winterberry workshops or to stop in at our holiday shop. We hope to see you this year too!
From an idea sparked while working in a weedy patch in New England, these bright red winterberries have become a favourite crop here on our family farm, and a season we all look forward to at Hat Trick Farms.