Thursday, October 13, 2016

PFI Pollinator Field Day in August

Basil flowers with a visitor

In partnership with Steve Schmidt, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Xerces Society and the support of the Bremer County Extension office, we helped to host a pollinator field day on August 20.  The Genuine Faux Farm (yes, that's us) has always been concerned about supporting pollinators and beneficial critters on the farm and it was an honor to be asked to help with this particular field day.

The day started at the Bremer County Extension Office in Tripoli where Sarah Foltz Jordan of the Xerces Society covered a broad range of topics regarding pollinators and pollinator habitat on farms.  It is always difficult to figure out what needs to be covered at events like this because you can never be entirely sure of where your audience is at knowledge-wise.  But, Sarah is a pro and did a fine job reaching us where we were.

At mid-day, lunch was served at the Extension Office.  GFF turkey, lettuce and tomatoes were served along with other food grown by Iowa farmers.  Liz Kolbe has a report for PFI on their blog  that lists the other farms that provided additional food, such as some delicious sweet corn.  Sally, Liz and Tammy did a fantastic job of getting the food together!  I don't think anyone went away hungry.

After lunch and before everyone started getting too sleepy, we headed out to our farm for a farm tour and a shot at using the Xerces Habitat Assessment Guides.  Rob was given a microphone, which is always a risk.  But, he behaved himself for the most part and people seemed to be able to tolerate him at least a little bit.

Probably the highlight for us - from our perspective - was the ability to show off the melon plot and our deliberate and careful integration of annual pollinator support strips.  We wrote about this more than once last year.  First, we highlighted the flowers we had selected for our melon field.   Then, we linked this more directly to our purpose of feeding our pollinators.  So, this is not an entirely new concept for us.

In fact, we've been trying to incorporate annual flowers into our veggie fields ever since we started.  Sometimes with success - and sometimes not.  We can tell you that treating these annual flower strips with the SAME priority as our melon crop we have seen an increase in marketable fruit over the past two years even while we reduced the number of melon plants we have put in the ground.
Borage left, basil towards the front, zinnia at right with melons between.

We certainly try to do this in other fields as well, but I have to admit that we don't always accomplish what we envision for each season.  Sometimes, we just don't get to it.  For example, we've interplanted sage (and other spices) with our broccoli in the past, but we didn't get to it this year.  Then, there are the cases where things just didn't go as planned.  We seeded cilantro next to our tomatoes and the cilantro simply didn't germinate.  We tested the germination of the seed in trays as well and they didn't do well that way either.  So, that kind of thing happens.

On the other hand, it was a good year for borage and zinnias. We direct-seed both of these flower crops and have had good success in both cases.  We typically seed a bit heavier than we might if we were just gardening for ourselves.  But, the intent is to make sure the flowers out-compete any weeds in the row.  We will cultivate between rows, but we don't want to do lots of extra hand-weeding just for the privilege of having the flowers.  Zinnias showed up in our tomato field (along with basil) and in our winter squash field.  Borage made an appearance with the winter squash as well.  And, you could find phacelia (Bee's Friend) in various places with different levels of success.

We also have marigolds, four o-clocks, salvia and various other flowering plants throughout our fields.  We're sad that we didn't get the sunflowers in this time around, but there is always next year.

Uh oh!  There's a picture of the farmer with the microphone.  And, Tammy is walking away from him.  I hope he didn't say anything bad!

Actually, in Rob's former life, he did teach computer science and is comfortable speaking in front of others - despite his tendency to be a bit introverted.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share a little of what we do on the farm and tell others what seems to have been working and a bit of what doesn't seem to work for us.  For me, it is not about trying to pretend to know everything.  Instead, it's about sharing what we've tried and what we think we know based on our observations and research.  From a selfish point of view - this forces me to work harder at investigating what I think I know so I can share these things effectively.  But, really, I think the sharing is beneficial if it gets others to simply think about what they can do to help pollinators.  It's a bit like farming, you plant seeds in hopes that they lead to something good.
Some attendees had to leave at various points as the event transpired.  It's always the nature of the beast since people can come from some distance to these events.  Those that were able to participate in running through the Xerces evaluation tool at our farm were willing to pose for a picture.
Steve Schmidt's farm

After that, people followed Steve Schmidt to his farm by Denver, Iowa.  Rob and Tammy stayed at their farm because, being the good introverts they are, they needed some recharge time!  Or, more accurately, they just collapsed.  But, we have been to Steve's farm and we're pleased that he has been working on a pollinator planting that he has incorporated into his row crop operation.

Steve is doing something we hope more row crop farmers will begin doing in the future.  Studies are showing that the presence of pollinator support tends to improve crop yields for a very wide range of crops.

So, are you curious about what you can do?  Take a look at this page on the Xerces website that includes a number of resources they have made available for free. 

Our thanks to Liz and Sally (PFI) for sharing these pictures form the field day.  For some reason, the farmers didn't have their own camera out!

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