Wind Dancer Farms/Double R Blueberry Farms are family-run blueberry farms located in West Olive, Michigan. Double R Blueberry Farms (Farm A), cultivates 28 acres of conventional blueberries and 5 acres of organic blueberries. Wind Dancer Farms (Farm B), cultivates an additional 14 acres of organic blueberries at a separate location.
Judy Rant has been the owner and operator of the farms since 1979. Since that time, she has overseen daily operations of the farms and has led the expansion and conversion from conventional to sustainable and organic agricultural practices. Dr. Rufus Isaacs, Dept. of Entomology, Michigan State University and Dr. Carlos Garcia, Michigan State University Extension, have frequently used the farm as a test site for implementation of integrated pest management (IPM) solutions to pest problems. Because of these projects and practices, the farm has seen an increase in the populations of both native bees and beneficial insects. The work of the farm toward a sustainable system has been documented in several publications, including publications by the Xerces Society and SARE’s Managing Cover Crops Profitably. The success of the programs has allowed the farms to decrease the use of broad-spectrum insecticides while supporting native insect populations through sustainable management of the field environment.
Our goal was to show how wildflower strips create a positive habitat for native pollinators and natural pest enemies (beneficial insects) that are at risk due to increased chemical interventions designed to control Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD).
We began our project with the site preparation. However, after working the ground once per week throughout the late spring, summer, and fall, we still did not feel the ground was prepared for a longer-term habitat commitment. Late fall 2014. At this point, because we were not happy with the site, we decided to hire a landscaper/excavator to improve it.
Needless to say, the site preparation took us longer than anticipated and we couldn’t plant the wildflower plugs in the fall of 2014. This threw us off the schedule for the entire project, but because preparing the ground is so critical, I am not sorry we made this decision.
In late 2014, we did, however, plant the habitat site with rye grass to prevent erosion and for soil health. We also were able to plant the spruce trees and the dune grass.
The main part of the SARE grant (the planting of native plugs, grasses, and seeds) was done in early June 2015. Esther Durnwell, from Michigan Wildflower Farm, delivered the 1800 plugs and the seeds to us. With her guidance, she organized the plants by height and showed us how and where to plant the plugs. She also helped us with weeding, fertilizing, and watering.
SHORT PLUGS, Scientific name, Common name; Number of plugs
- Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed, 114
- Coeopsis lanceolata, Sand tickseed, 76
- Lupinus perennis, Wild lupine, 114
- Monarda punctata, Horsemint, 114
- Rudbeckia hirta, Blackeyed Susan, 76
- Sporobolus heterolepis, Prairie dropseed, 128
MEDIUM PLUGS Scientific name, Common name; Number of plugs
- Aster laevis, Smooth aster,114
- Aster oolentangiensis, Prairie heartleaved aster, 76
- Echinacea purpurea, Purple coneflower, 114
- Helianthus occidentalis, Western sunflower, 76
- Liatris aspera, Rough blazing star, 114
- Penstemon digitalis, Foxglove beardstongue, 114
- Solidago speciosa, Showy goldenrod, 38
- Tradescantia ohiensis, Spiderwort, 76
- Verbena stricta, Hoary vervain, 76
- Schizachyrium scoparius, Little bluestem, 114
TALL PLUGS Scientific name, Common name; Number of plugs
- Monarda fistulosa, Bergamot, 76
- Solidago rigida, Stiff goldenrod, 38
- Veronicasturm virginicum, Culvers root, 38
- Zizia aurea, Golden alexander, 38
- Elymus canadensis, Canada Wild Rye, 76
The irrigation was done prior to planting the plugs and was used frequently during the summer to get the plugs established.
Many of the wildflower plugs planted in June did not flower at all the first year. The “10 Steps to a Successful Wildflower Planting” reminded us that it takes 3-5 years for native perennials to become well established. So because the plugs were planted late and most did not bloom the first year, the bulk of our research will happen in 2016 or even 2017.
With the limited amount of resources we did have, we were able to see that by providing wildflower strips and a habitat, it will sustain or promote populations of native pollinators and beneficial insects despite the dangers to them associated with an increase in the use of calendar-based spraying for SWD.
Lastly, Steve Van Timmeren, Rufus Isaacs’ assistant, showed me how to fill the SWD traps and what to look for when I checked them. He also showed me where to hang the yellow sticky traps and what to look for every week.
• Emily May – a grad assistant to Rufus Isaacs. She was the true person behind the scenes and our go-between with Dr. Isaacs.
• Steve Van Timmeren – an assistant to Dr. Isaacs. He helped me with scouting and showed me how to do the traps and how to read them.
• Dr. Rufus Isaacs – heads up the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University. It was his previous published work that led us to our goal.
• Esther Durnwell – owner of Michigan Wildflower Farm. She helped pick out the wildflowers we used in the project and provided much information.
• Carlos Garcia – from Michigan State University Extension Service. He helped us with extension emails to farmers to inform them about our project and to advertise the field day.
• Tom Sibley – a Bio-Ag representative who introduced me to other sustainable farmers. With my encouragement on September 15, 2015, Tom organized a CropWalk. My farm was one of the farms toured.
Because our site preparation took longer than planned, the wildflowers did not get planted until June 2015. Most of the wildflowers did not bloom the first year, so limited research happened in 2015. However, our farm already has more bees and beneficial insects than in 2014.
I learned that having a habitat for bees and beneficial insects can really make a difference. Of course it is a good environmental activity, but it has also proved to be profitable.
The advantage of this project is that most blueberry farmers are very interested in what they can do to fight the effects of SWD.
I would tell other farmers how I started small and worked my way. You don’t need to know everything to get started. There are lots of people around who will help and are knowledgeable.
The methods I used to tell others about my project, project activities, and project results:
• Web page – www.wind-dancer-farms.com
• Facebook – Wind Dancer Farms, www.facebook.com/pages/Wind-Dancer-Farms/125178890869075?fref=ts
• Field Day – September 3, 2015, at 4:00 p.m. It was advertised through Michigan State University Extension Service emails, web page, Facebook, and CropWalk. About 40 people attended.
• CropWalk – September 15, 2015, at 3:30 p.m. It was advertised through Tom Sibley, and he hosted a tour of three farms. My farm was one of the tours. Those in attendance were all interested in sustainability and profitability. About 35 people attended. Next year I would like to work with Tom Sibley again. Seeing other people’s farms was very informative.
Research at Michigan State University has established that native wildflower planting strips can increase native pollinators and natural enemies on blueberry farms with good IPM management (Walton and Isaacs, 2011). However, the arrival of spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, an invasive insect pest, has caused growers to abandon IPM programs and revert back to calendar based, broad-spectrum insecticide spraying (Van Timmeren and Isaacs, 2013). Not only is this an economic hardship, but also a potential environmental stress on native bees and natural enemies in these critical spray areas.The intent of this study is to address the need to provide refuges for native insects outside of the critical spray area in the field with native wildflower plantings.
The intent of this project is to show that promoting populations of beneficial insects while successfully fighting spotted wing drosophila will require the creation of safe nesting habitats and a constant food supply for native beneficial pollinators and insects. Based on research at MSU (Blaauw and Isaacs, 2012), we feel that these areas would be best located near the critical growing area but outside of the spray zone.
The project will first determine the number and variety of the native pollinators and beneficial insects at both farms. Once the baseline data has been determined, native wildflower strips will be planted at the center of farm A around an irrigation pond. This central location will allow pollinators and beneficial insects to have a safe refuge from insecticides and easy access to all fields. At farm B, no wildflower strips will be planted so that a control for the study is available. At both farms, a survey of the number and variety of native pollinators and beneficial insects will be done during bloom and once per month until the end of harvest. In addition, at farm A, a comparison of number and variety of native pollinators and beneficial insects will be studied between fields closest to the wildflower strip and those farthest from it.
We expect to show that providing wildflower strips will sustain or promote populations of native pollinators and beneficial insects despite the dangers to them associated with an increase in the use of calendar-based spraying.
Secondary to this goal, is the hope that promotion of native populations will allow the farmer to use fewer broad- spectrum insecticides when spotted wing drosophila is not active in the fields. Not only will this be environmentally beneficial, it may be economically advantageous to growers if they can spend less money on chemical insect protection outside of the spotted wing drosophila window of activity.