The Prolific Blueberries of Inkwell Farm
When John Bennett, Jean Calaci, and their two daughters left Berkeley, CA, they had three stipulations: small town life, big city access, and seasons. Their search led them to Epping, New Hampshire, and to a property sale sign listing a radio advertisement. They tuned in and heard eureka—Old farmhouse. Seventeen acres. In September 2005, the property became their home, along with an inheritance of 700 blueberry bushes.
Before those bushes, the 1743 homestead had once been a tavern and even a mink farm. Then, from the late 1960s to early 1980s, the Hall family cared for it, planting fir, spruce, the berry bushes, and naming it Dimond Hill Farm after a nearby road. John and Jean loved this history, but after learning of another Dimond Hill Farm in Concord, NH, named for its owners, they decided to give their Epping property a new name. “We wanted something old-timey that also reflects what actually happens on the farm,” John explains. “During our first season mulling over what this could be, I noticed I was getting what looked like ink stains on my hands from picking ripe berries, and I thought, the farm is like an inkwell.” John also recounts what he and Jean enthusiastically preserved, namely organic certification started by the previous owners and the farm’s cash/check Pick-Your-Own operation. He chuckles fondly over the institution of the latter: “Some pickers have been coming for decades. They tell us that their summers wouldn’t be complete without a visit to our farm.”
John and Jean’s commitment to their PYO visitors and organic blueberries has been both a labor of love and a learning process. That first year, the new farmers contacted UNH Cooperative Extension’s Field Specialist Nada Haddad, who helped them navigate pruning, soil nutrition, and disease control. Fellow UNH specialist, Alan Eaton, offered guidance on Integrated Pest Management Techniques.
Over a decade later, John and Jean are going strong. When the ‘mummy berry’ propagates under bushes to send up its fruit-withering spores, they drag a chain along the base of the plants, row by row. When the PYO buckets need washing, they use organic soap. If the invasive Spotted Wing Drosophila descends, they use a light application of a natural compound, spinosad, which is approved for certified organic farms. Interestingly, the East Asian SWD, which showed up in 2008, seems to affect berries only later in the season, which means that with enough early-season PYO traffic, John and Jean can spray minimally.
PYO blueberry season at Inkwell Farm runs from early July to early August. (Visit www.inkwellfarm.com for 2017’s opening date.) And with a vision to expand seasons as a fruit and flower farm, Jean recently planted 200 peony bushes. When mature, the May/June blooms will fill arrangements at Inkwell Flowers, the specialty flower shop Jean opened in Newmarket in February 2016.
While the new boutique keeps them linked to the community year-round now, John and Jean still look forward to blueberry season and to visitors using the farm’s guest book to share impressions of their PYO experiences—Samples of sweet fruit. Soft shade from fir and spruce. Giggles of children and chickens. “After a while,” John reflects, “you realize it’s not only about taking care of a certain amount of fruit on a certain amount of acres, but it’s also about preserving an experience that people come back for year after year.”
What story might Inkwell Farm berries write for you this season? John and Jean hope it’s a pleasant one, filled with blueberry pails swinging on a New England summer day. Leave a comment in the guestbook and let them know.