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 some of the projects we've worked on in the past few years.
Steve Poppe from the University of Minnesota has been researching for a number of years a new system for growing strawberries organically in Minnesota. The strawberries are a different type, called day-neutrals, than we are used to in Minnesota and are grown as annuals on raised beds with plastic. In addition the rows can be covered with low tunnels to increase growth of the plants, protect the berries from rain, and extend the harvest season into October. in 2017, we participated in Steve's research as a field site for testing out the growing system and providing the University of Minnesota with feedback from growers. We loved the system so much that we decided to scale it up and start pick-your-own strawberries in 2018. For more information on the University of Minnesota's strawberry research check out their blog by clicking here.
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 four more in 2016. After a few years getting established, we now have beautiful strips of blooming prairie scattered around 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, blueberries, strawberries and to a lesser extent grapes. SWD has led to a significant increase in insecticides being sprayed on raspberries and blueberries especially 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 Mary has researched netting, different pruning methods to create a less hospitable environment for SWD, and different ground covers in the blueberry rows (mulch, landscape fabric) to see if either inhibits SWD's reproductive cycle. Click here for the slides from a presentation that Mary and I gave at the MOSES organic farming conference in 2017.
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 (2015), we found no effect from compost tea treatments on soil microbial activity or on the health of the blueberry plants.
In 2016, we experimented with two different methods of brewing the tea. The first brewing method was to aerate the tea. The second method was to aerate the tea and add heat. Preliminary results showed that heating and aerating the tea increased the protein content of leaf tissue by 10% over the control group. This increase suggests that plants in these treatments might have had greater access to nitrogen. Click here for the final grant report, which includes the finding from our farm.