The history of Duck Creek Blackberries
In January 2004, Charles and Randy Kesseler purchased 700 ten-inch tall match-stick sized hybrid blackberry plants from an Arkansas grower licensed by the University of Arkansas. These plants promised larger berries in greater numbers, and all without thorns. Charles, whose hobby has been computers since 1978, is a former science teacher at Sanger High school and is retired after 30 years from the Denton Post Office. He lives on the farm with his wife Marilyn. His brother, Randy, now deceased, was an anesthesiologist and had the "green thumb". They had always been intrigued with the latest in technology. Knowing that blackberries grow well in sandy, acidic soil, they decided to give the new thorn-less varieties a try on the farm. The main problem, however, seemed to be providing enough water for the plants to flourish in the dry north Texas climate.
The problem was solved when the brothers installed an efficient, pressure-compensated, turbulent flow drip irrigation system and used stock tank water filtered with sand and stainless steel mesh filters. Rainwater harvesting using stock ponds is a much more efficient way to utilize natural resources than using roofs, gutters and large storage tanks. Since surface water (rain water) in north Texas has less salt content than well water, this decision worked well and the plants flourished without any salt or mineral buildup. Even in the severe drought here in 2006, the plants thrived and produced a nominal amount of berries. Although no substitute for rain, irrigation helps smooth out the natural dry/wet cycles.
Mature plants are 5-6 feet tall and produce berries that are both thornless and easy to pick. There are currently five different varieties that ripen at different times, so there are continuously ripening berries that are ready to pick from early June through late July. The Kesseler family is marketing their crop by allowing the public to come out to their berry patch and pick your own. So if you want to pick your own fresh blackberries, enjoy a country outing with little cost, and show your kids what a farm looks like, come on out to the Duck Creek Blackberry Farm at 5037 Duck Creek Road in Sanger, Texas. Check out our "Farm Pictures" page for a peek at our farm and our customers in action.
History of 2005-2006 Seasons
In our first two seasons, we picked our own berries and sold them at the Denton County Farmer's Market and local produce houses. 2005 was a very good year for the young berries. In 2006, we planted about 500 new Quachita plants in the North Patch. The summer drought ruined most of the berries in the original South Patch and the battle was on to save the newly planted North Patch.
History of 2007 Season
We opened the farm for the first time to allow folks to come out and pick their own berries. The crop was good and it seemed to rain nearly every other day. This was our first foray into the U Pick business. While we still sold berries to the produce houses and some at the Farmer's Market, the last half of the year was so good for the U Pick that we ceased picking our own berries and sold as U Pick only.
History of 2008 Season
In Februrary 2008 we planted a West Patch of 650 new plants which would began production during the summer of 2009. The only complaint from the public was that we needed to plant more berries. With many repeat customers, we sold out ripe berries every day that we opened.
History of 2009 Season
On February 7, 2009, Randy and I planted 200 more Natchez and Apache plants that will be in production summer 2010. April 6, 2009, the temperature dropped to 26 degrees and froze some of the early berry blooms and all of the peaches and apricots. We brought in a beehive to the farm to make sure that all of the remaining berry blooms were pollinated. The result was an abundant crop better than 2008. We opened on June 13, later than usual due to the late freeze and cooler spring. The rains quit the first of June and the heat began. Even with stock tank irrigation there is no substitute for rain, so we closed early on July 11. The crop was very good but did not last long enough. My brother Randy passed away in February, leaving a big hole in our hearts.
History of 2010 Season
In January this year, my daughter Christy and I planted about 400 new Natchez and 120 new Apache. The new Natchez grew very fast this wet spring and produced a small crop. The Natchez planted last year produced a record crop and I was very pleased with their quality and production. As was the case last year, the rains quit and in mid May the irrigation battle was already on. We added 2 more bee hives and had a record number of berries on the plants. Rain was very slight the first of May through all of June. Many berries sunburned on the bush because of the 100 degree heat during the middle of June reducing berry production greatly. Signifiant rains began in early July, but it it was too late for the berries already on the vines. We opened on June 5 and closed on July 3.
History of 2011 Season
The winter and spring of this year started out very cold and very dry. As the berry plants started blooming in early April, the temperature dropped to 26 degrees. The plants were in full bloom at this time, as were the apricots and peaches. About 85% of the berry blooms were killed and the berry plants were damaged from this freeze. There were very few peaches and no apricots. Rain was so sparse that we started irrigation in April. The crop was so bad that we only opened for part of two days the middle of June and then closed and "threw in the towel." The exceptional drought and extremely hot temperatures this summer caused many of the plants to die even with irrigation. My main water source, the stock tank, was pumped dry the last week of July. With only slightly more than 12 inches of rain from January to mid-August, the plants were stressed severely. I cut them back to about 1/2 normal height thereby reducing the water and nutrient requirements. It seems this trick may have worked and most of the plants seem to be alive as the rains began in October and November. The extent of the drought damage and plant cut-back will not be known until the spring bloom. I had the stock tank dug out and enlarged in September to increase the amount of irrigation water available to help with the drought problems here at the farm. Built a pier in order to maintenance the submersible pump in the now larger tank. The empty tank filled completely in January 2012 when we had nearly seven inches of rain.
History of 2012 Season
I added seven new rows and 550 new plants in January, some to replace the ones that died in the terrible drought of 2011. In May 2011, I cut back the bushes about 1/2 in order they might survive the drought. The result was that most survived, but were anly half the usual size. This resulted in less berries this year since the surviving plants were so much smaller and berries only produce on second-year wood. There was a lot of rain during the winter and spring. In May, when the berries were maturing, the rain halted. Intense irrigation from the new irrigation pond saved the day. The crop was 2-3 weeks early and was minimal. We opened in mid-May and closed June 9, only about a 4 week season. Ordered 300 new plants in October to be planted in February 2013.
History of 2013 Season
The winter has been cold with moderate rain. We planted 300 new Ouachita plants on February 1st. The spring turned out to be about normal temperature but below normal rainfall. May and June were particularly short of rain causing the berry crop to be much less that normal. The summer of 2013 was very hot and dry but not quite as bad as the drought of 2011. Irrigation water was short and the plants suffered accordingly. A new irrigation water well is being planned to help with the water situation and is hopefully to be on-line by January 2014. The season began on June 8 and ended the first week of July.
History of 2014 Season
The 2014 season was nothing less than disaster. A late cold spell the first week of April in which the temperature dipped to 26 degrees froze a majority of the berry blooms and nearly all of the peaches and other fruit blooms. Early spring was very dry and required irrigation for the few surviving blackberries to ripen. A new water well helped but the damage by the freeze was not to be overcome. We opened to the public only 4 days in June and used a reservation system through Facebook messaging for the first time ever in 10 years we have been in the blackberry business. A heavy 16 inch rain during the later part of July helped the plants survive the summer with hopes that 2015 would be much better.
History of 2015 Season
Spring of 2015 was one of the wettest on record. Rivers, lakes, and streams saw severe flooding but not on the hill here at the berry farm. Although the rain caused massive problems for the local farmer, it was a blessing here at the farm after several years of severe drought. The vines were weakened by the extended drought, but bounced back and made a good crop this year. Berries were filled out but a little on the watery side early in the season. With very little irrigation during the season, the late summer turned out to be exceedingly dry with extensive irrigation necessary after harvest. From the end of June til well into September, very little rain fell. Not a drop of rain fell the entire month of August for a total of over 45 days without any rain. Most of the plants have survived, but it is too early to know the effects for the 2016 season.