We purchased the first parcel of land in March, 1996 without any real plan what we wanted to with it, other than enjoy the beauty. Over the years, we bought connected parcels as they came up for sale, hoping that one day we would be able to retire and move from the Twin Cities out to the country. At that time, we did not have a plan, other than Steve’s desire to “grow something”. In the last few years, we decided to start with blueberries and see if we can get them established, and then we hope to add other fruit or vegetables, maybe even try our hand at tapping our maple trees for syrup.
During the summer of 2008, we prepared the field. Although this sounds easy enough, and two acres does not sound like a lot, but when you start with a heavy silt loam soil and want to make it suitable for blueberries, it was no small task. It required truckloads, sometimes semi loads of material. First we started with 2,000 pounds of sulfur, added two inches of sand (200 cubic yards) then 250 cubic yards of peat followed by 400 cubic yards of compost, all of which had to be till in between each load. The sand and compost were to lighten the heavy soil so it drains better; the peat and sulfur were to reduce the ph from 7.0 down to 5.0. We learned a lot – like not to buy sand with “small rocks” because we spent six days just picking out the not so small rocks from the field. That was hard work!
We were thankful that Steve had the vision to buy a Mill Creek Row Mulcher to spread the material on the rows. What took us every Saturday and Sunday, all day, from April through October, would not have been possible without the mulcher.
In 2009, we planted 21 rows, about 3,000 plants and immediately laid down the drip irrigation. The majority of the field are “tried and true” winter hardy varieties -- Chippewa, Patriot, Polaris, Northland and Northblue, about 400 of each. We were also lucky enough to get about 150 of the brand new variety developed by the University of Minnesota called Superior. We have thirteen other varieties in smaller volume that we are trying as experimental, to see how they survive and produce with our farm conditions. The rest of the season was spent picking weeds – the challenge with not using herbicides! For a while we wondered if we could grow blueberries -- but we sure could grow weeds! We spent every weekend just weeding, and still could not keep up. It could take a whole day just to weed one 100 foot row. We finally ended up hiring people to help us.
In 2010, we picked more weeds – but started to learn ways to get on top of them so they did not take over the fields. Our plants produced some berries which we shared with our family and friends that helped us on the cold, windy, mid May day in 2009 when we planted most of the plants.
Sustainability of the land and protecting natural resources is important to us.
Although we are not certified organic (yet), we don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers on our blueberry bushes or the blueberry fields. Blueberry plants can live for fifty years or more and with the proper fertilization and pruning of old canes, this allows for the younger more vigorous canes to grow to maturity and bear fruit.
We use drip irrigation to water just the blueberry plant roots. The irrigation system is set on a timer so the blueberries get the water they need to survive (they are sensitive fruit and will not survive drought or even low water conditions) but not waste water with overhead sprinkler systems that can over water the area needed. We buy our compost (about 300 cubic yards) from a local dairy farm. The compost is straw, waste and wood shavings from his dairy cow barn that has been turned and composted to break down the components. We further pile it and turn it to finish its composting cycle before we put it on our blueberry beds. It is great organic matter that we used in the beds before we planted to lighten the dense clay soil as well as spread around the plants to keep weeds down and retain water.
We are a working crop farm too. We have about 70 acres of corn, soybeans, and hay grown by our neighbor. Local events include an oat thrashing using early 1900s thrasher. In order to dry the oats, they need to be bunched and stood in shocks so the golden colored oats can dry in the air.