This week, I caught up with my brother Dean Johnson as he and his wife Laura were in the barn putting their horses away for the night. “Sugar” and “Summer” are the two horses you see in the pasture on the corner of Center Road and Kroupa Road. This farm was once owned by Walter and Ruth Rude, who raised Tennessee Walker horses there.
Summer is a favorite photographic subject of mine. Here’s one of my favorites from a few winters ago (that’s Chateau Chantal in the background across the road)…
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Spraying for Weeds
So what’s happening on the farm this week? Dean said they’re finishing up with tree-trimming (something that goes on basically all winter), continuing to spray for pests and blight (read more about that here), and have started spraying weeds in the orchards and vineyards, so the crops don’t have to compete for nutrients with the weeds.
Here’s a picture of Dean with his weed sprayer that he built. (However, this is not “Weed-Zilla,” another home-made legendary weed sprayer that makes its way around the farms; you’ll know it if you see it, because “Weed-Zilla” is written on the side).
The Frost Report
This week in The Frost Report, Dean said they’ve moved on to worrying about apples. As mentioned in our farm report a couple weeks ago, some of the farmers, including Johnson Farms, have wind machines that help to circulate warm air in the orchards to help alleviate frost damage.
However, as with cherries, the amount of frost damage really depends on where you are on the Old Mission Peninsula. Some orchards are hit harder than others. Dean said their Jonagold crop is pretty much gone, and “The Forty,” our longtime apple orchard on the corner of Peninsula Drive and Kroupa Road, is a mixed bag. Some apples survived, “but not a lot,” he said.
Below are a couple photos of apple blossoms on The Forty, including one with a bee doing his all-important work. Because the sweet and tart cherries are done blossoming, the bee hives were moved to the apples for pollination.
Dean said he likes to move them in the early morning when it’s cool to avoid having to “smoke” the hives to keep the bees calm. The bee hives are placed on pallets, and he uses a tractor with forks on both the front and back to move them around to various orchards.
Tart Cherry Blossoms
I stopped into my brother Ward Johnson’s orchard on Center Road near “The Hogsback” to grab a few photos of the tart cherries blossoming.
By the way, I was off on my blossom schedule prediction by at least a week. I’ll go back and update this story when I have a second because I like to compare from one year to the next when things are blossoming.
When cherries started blossoming this year, they were a couple weeks ahead of schedule. But when the weather started to warm up, they leveled off to their regular schedule.
Here’s a couple photos of the tart cherry blossoms in Ward’s orchard. This was about a week ago, so they’re all done blossoming as I write this.
While I was there, I saw Ward and his father-in-law, Dan Tuller (aka “Farmer Dan”), on the other side of the orchard, so I went over to say hi. Dan was loading up his vintage corn planter, having just planted a bunch of corn on the farm, which Ward plans to sell at his new little farm stand this summer.
I imagine that some of the corn might go to help cull the deer herd in the orchards, as well. Because the deer do so much damage to the orchards (they chew everything in sight, including the trees), farmers are able to get off-season hunting permits. Dean said they were able to get five permits in the spring (five permits = five deer). They’ve taken three deer so far, “and we haven’t even put a dent in them,” he said. There are a lot of deer on the Old Mission Peninsula.
And by the way, Dean said that Farmer Dan is one of the best hunters he’s ever seen, and that he watched him take out two deer one right after the other in the next orchard over from this photo. Here’s a picture of Dan and his vintage corn-planter…
Bees, Bees and More Bees
One of the big things happening on the farm this week is the bees – and the thousands of bees who’ve broken off from their main hives and swarmed in nearby trees. As mentioned, Dean moved the bee hives to the apples, and both he and his daughter, Heather Johnson, texted me a few times to alert me to bees swarming in various orchards.
The first one was on the home farm near the cooling pad – that big space north of Mapleton that’s a hub of activity during cherry season. It’s a receiving station for hundreds of thousands of pounds of cherries each year – more on that as we get closer to cherry harvest.
Here’s a picture of that bee swarm…
Then a few days later, Tim and I spotted this swarm in an apple tree on The Forty, the aforementioned apple orchard on the corner of Peninsula Drive and Kroupa Road.
The following day, Heather texted to let me know about the mother of all bee swarms – also on The Forty, but about a half-a-row away from the above swarm.
I’ve seen a lot of swarms on the farm over the years, but this is probably one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The bottom photo gives you some perspective. You can see that the swarm covers the entire tree.
And here’s that same bee swarm with the bee hives in front of it, along with a photo of the hives themselves…
As we watched all of these swarms break off from their hives on Johnson Farms, I started hearing other farmers and residents on the Peninsula say they’re seeing a lot of swarms, too.
What’s up with all the bee swarms? Because I’m a curious sort, I called Joel Schaeffer, who owns Ona Mission Honey Farm out by the Lighthouse. He said this is the time of year when bees swarm and that maybe we’re just noticing them more this year.
Since this story is getting super long, and since the bees deserve their own story, I’ll write a separate story about what Joel told me – look for that here on the Gazette in the next few days.
The short version is that when there get to be too many bees in a hive, the bees make another queen. The new queen stays in the hive, while the old queen leaves, taking – as you can see in the photos above – thousands of bees with her. More on that forthcoming.
Before I close out this week’s farm report, I wanted to mention that Johnson Farms had their inspection/verification for MAEAP, the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program that I mentioned here. Everyone passed the inspection, including Ward, who had one of his orchards verified for the first time.
I might try and squeeze in an interview with Dan Busby, who does the MAEAP inspections in this area, to find out more about it. But in summary, it’s a program of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that helps farmers reduce the risks of agricultural soil and water pollution.
If a farm is MAEAP-verified, that means they’re doing a good job of implementing practices that reduce environmental risks. You can read more about the program here.