Growing organic fruit in Minnesota can be a challenge. We're constantly trying new ways to grow delicious fruit, save time, and encourage more biodiversity on the farm. We partner with fellow farmers, non-profits, and researchers from the University of Minnesota and Carleton College. Below are a few of the projects we're working on right now.
We've been alarmed to read about the decline in honey bees and other pollinators in the U.S. over the past few years. We decided that we wanted be one small part of the solution to this problem by creating habitat on our farm for native bees and other insects. In 2015 we partnered with the Xerces Society to plant strips of native prairie flowers and grasses around the farm to provide food sources throughout the growing season and nesting habitat. We planted two strips in 2015 and will plant four more in 2016. Right now they're not much to look at, but if all goes well in a couple years we'll have beautiful strips of blooming prairie all over the farm.
Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD)
Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is an invasive fruit fly that appeared in Minnesota in 2012 and on our farm in 2013. The fly lays its eggs in ripe fruit. In Minnesota, it particularly enjoys raspberries and blueberries and to a lesser extent strawberries and grapes. SWD has led to a significant increase in insecticides being sprayed on raspberries and blueberries in Minnesota and across the U.S. We are committed to NOT spraying harmful chemicals on our fruit. Starting in 2014, we began participating in research conducted by Dr. Mary Rogers from the University of Minnesota to monitor fruit fly populations and experiment with methods to protect our berries without spraying harmful chemicals. So far we've tried netting and frequent harvesting our blueberries to ensure that ripe fruit is not in the field for extended periods of time. In the future we may experiment with baiting and trapping the flies outside our fields to keep them away from our blueberries.
Controlling Canada Thistle
Canada thistle is an extremely difficult weed to control, especially organically. With the support of a grant from MN Dept of Agriculture, we are exploring the effectiveness of killing thistle with vinegar compared to hand pulling. Click here for our grant report outlining our findings in the first year of the grant. This grant report can also be found in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Greenbook, which highlights innovative research farmers are doing across the state.
We participating, along with four other farms in the Northfield area, in studying whether using compost tea can have positive effects on plant health. We are experimenting with the effectiveness of using compost tea to increase soil microbial activity. As part of our research, we are collaborating with Dr. Dan Hernandez and Delaney Vail from Carleton College. In the first year of our experiment, we found no effect from compost tea treatments on soil microbial activity or on the health of the blueberry plants. We plan to continue with this experiment in 2017 to see if there are effects from compost tea if we continue to use it over multiple growing seasons. Click here to view the poster showing the results from the first year of this experiment that was presented at the 2016 MOSES Organic Farming Conference.