Saturday, January 18, 2014

Study Abroad: Drum Roll Please!

I said I'd tell you guys where I was going abroad this March at the end of the week. So here it is!
Drum roll...

Yup, I'm going to England. I'll be in London for nine days in March studying K-12 school gardens! The class itself runs for the whole semester and the point of the trip is to learn techniques for teaching horticulture in schools so that, when we come back to the Twin Cities, we can bring those techniques to classrooms here. I'm really excited to have the opportunity to go abroad to study something I love! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Field Trips: Part 2

My Fruit Production course also required all of us to take a self-guided field trip of a fruit farm in the area. Luckily, one of my friends from band's family who owns Pleasant Valley Orchard near Taylors Falls, MN. My group of friends takes a trip every year to the orchard which is a UPick operation and has an onsite store and bakery. There's also a hiking trail and a hay ride as well that my friends had a lot of fun with.

My roommate and I got to talk to the owner of the orchard about his growing methods and just general information about the farm. What made the biggest impression on me is how much time and effort he devotes to monitoring and trapping insect pests in order to keep pesticide use at a minimum. The amount he knows about the different pests life cycles and monitors their progression across the state of Minnesota every season is really fascinating. It also sounds like it would save him a lot of time and money only having to use a spray, for example, right after the bugs have laid their eggs and the spray causes the eggs not to hatch. The farm isn't certified organic, but they do use mainly organic practices. They also sell apples right out of their onsite shop, as well as to local grocers, and the local school system.


I ended up picking a lot of Haralson apples for pie making. I'm not really a person who eats apples raw, but I love them in baked goods. I ended up making an awesome pie out of them!


This orchard is a lot of fun and I saw a lot of people enjoying the gorgeous fall day. There were lots of families with young children who loved that there were farm animals and hay to play in. I definitely recommend checking them out next fall for an outing with family and friends of any age. I'd also recommend checking out their blog for updates from the orchard.

Field Trips: Part 1

For two of my classes this past semester, my Fruit Production course and Horticultural Marketing course, I went on a number of field trips to places around the Twin Cities. These were really eye opening experiences because it showed a part of the wide array of careers available to those of us with a degree in Horticulture. From everything to farming, to greenhouse work, to wholesale, to managing and marketing, we got to see how professionals in our area utilize their love of plants. Because cramming everything into one post would make things rather long, I'll be splitting these field trips up into three posts.

I'm going to talk about my Fruit Production field trip first because, while we only went on one field trip as a class together, we visited three places in one day, making for a day-long jaunt around the outskirts of Minneapolis/St.Paul that was packed full of educational experiences.
The first place we visited on that chilly Saturday morning was the Bauer Berry Farm in Champlin, MN. The Bauers have been in operation since 1977 and operate mainly growing strawberries (their primary crop) and blueberries. They also devote a good portion of their property to growing sweet corn. Their stories about trying to keep the geese away were probably the funniest stories I heard all day. While trying to find ways to keep them away but not kill them, they found out that geese really don't like airsoft guns.  Another cool part about the Bauer's farm is that everything runs on solar energy. They even produce so much that they have an excess of energy that they sell back to the utility company! They also practice sustainable agricultural methods to keep their farm environmentally safe. Cover crops of rye are planted yearly to minimize soil erosion and provide a natural nitrogen source. Pesticides are only used when absolutely necessary and they determine this by monitoring their fields with the Integrated Pest Management system. Their operation is also UPick site so I highly recommend looking them up around strawberry season to see when you can go out, pick some delicious strawberries and support a local farm and business.

One of the Bauer's strawberry fields. 
Strawberry rows next to blueberry bushes.

The next place our journey took us was to an organic apple orchard west of the Twin Cities metro area. You'll have to forgive me because I don't remember the name of the operation. This orchard isn't UPick, but it does sell it's apples to local co-ops like The Wedge. This farm was also operating with organic methods and the owner is also dabbling in cider making with an onsite cider press. He also shares land with a local vegetable producer who also sells her produce to local co-ops. They have a great land sharing system going on that's a benefit to them both.


My favorite (non-horticulture related) part of this stop was the friendly barn cats who decided they'd better tag along on our tour of the orchard. One even rode on the shoulder of one of my classmates almost they entire time!

This guy certainly had some claws, but he was perfectly happy to ride along
on my classmates shoulder the whole time we were walking.
This little guy didn't care to much for being carried, but he walked along with us until
almost the very end when his attention was caught by something else off among the trees. 

The last stop of our day took us to Woodland Hill Winery, just west of Delano, MN. Growing in what used to be a cornfield, and utilizing a few gorgeous red barns that used to hold livestock, Woodland Hill Winery is becoming one of the best in Minnesota. They only use natural compounds and fertilizers and are committed to not using herbicides on their crops. They host tours, tastings and a wide variety of events, as well as being available for weddings and other private parties. One of the coolest parts of our visit was seeing where the fermentation and ageing process happens. I was most impressed by the fact that our host, the owner of the vineyard, made most of the piping/heating/cooling equipment that we saw himself! And of course there were barrels and barrels of wine sitting along the walls.


No trip to a vineyard would be complete without tasting, and their tasting room was a warm and welcoming place on a slightly rainy and chilly day.

I learned so much about the organic fruit production industry on this trip and I'm really glad we had a whole Saturday to go out to visit all these places!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fruit Farm Project

For my fruit production class this past semester, our semester-long project was to plan out the design for a fruit farm. We had to find a site in Minnesota or any other adjacent state where we would set up the farm. The farm had to include a "mainstream" crop like apples or grapes and at least one crop that wasn't quite as common. I ended up making a fruit farm where I would grow grapes, raspberries and blackberries for commercial jams, preserves and other value added products. We also had to go through the process of looking at USDA soil maps, choosing the cultivars of fruit, and thinking through all the other small details like cover crops, marketing, organic practices and five year plans.
Below are snippets of my program so you can get an idea of what I came up with. I figured it would be easier to show you instead of describing it. The following isn't the whole thing, because the whole thing is 17 pages long and I don't want to bore you all to tears. And, of course, I'm not an expert farmer so if my theories about cover crops and five year planting plans are a bit weird, cut me a little slack, this is my first one.

So there you have it. Lots of tables and lists of information, and putting it together took a really really long time, but I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome. I didn't include some of the stuff about my marketing plan and a lot of the hefty list of cultivars I chose, among other things. But I figured this was a lot of reading as it is. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask. Next up on my list of blog post is some of my field trip experiences which will be up sometime next week!