PEST MANAGEMENT-ANIMALS 

Deer: Deers are a major problem in our area. It's one of the reasons why we quit farming our 11 acres of organic vegetables in 1993. A major reason why we even considered starting Blue Fruit Farm was because the previous renters had installed an 8 ft woven wire fence around the 4-acre field. This has worked very well. We do have to replace a few poles periodically. We are very careful to always close the gate when not working in the field. We have not seen any deer inside our fields since 2009.

Rabbits: We had some experiences with rabbits eating the small blueberry bushes we planted in the garden. When renovating the deer fence in 2009, we also installed a 4 ft woven wire rabbit fence attached to the original woven wire fence. We monitor for rabbit tracks in the winter but have not had any problems.

Raccoons: We started having a problem with raccoons climbing in the cherry plum and plum trees closest to the woods. Raccoons climb right over the 8 ft fence! They broke some branches. Jim set up a live trap but didn’t get any raccoons. Then he installed an electric fence attached to the 8 ft fence about 4 feet off the ground. It was powered by a solar fencer. Usually it is one family that is a problem. Once you get them under control, you are good to go.

PEST MANAGEMENT – BIRDS

Birds, including robins and cedar waxwings, are a big problem for us, especially for our juneberries and blueberries. The first thing we did was to remove the bluebird houses we put up to attract bluebirds. Bluebirds eat fruit!

Overhead netting has been a project several years in the making at Blue Fruit Farm. We began using this system in 2015. In 2014, we erected cedar posts throughout the farm to cover the majority of our crops - most importantly our blueberries, juneberries, and elderberries, which are favorites among the local birds. 

For several years, we tried draping bird netting directly over plants as the fruit is close to ripening and draping netting over a plastic tubing attached to posts. The netting just gets in the way of harvesting and string trimming along the mulched rows. Birds seem to get in anyway, especially along the bottom. Birds can pick at fruit through the netting. 

In addition to netting, Jim put up 2 raptor poles that allow real owls, hawks and eagles to patrol the area. He also exchanged the bluebird houses for wren houses which were mounted on posts inside the field periodically. Wrens are territorial and do not eat fruit. We also mounted several fake owls and hawks that have motion sensors--they can squawk and turn their heads. These are moved around so birds don’t get used to them. But all of these options have limited success.

One variety of elderberries we are growing, Bob Gordon, is supposed to droop downward so that their fruit is not as accessible to birds.

When we were in a Florida outdoor bar, we noticed filament line crisscrossing overhead from posts to posts. This had the effect of confusing the pigeons that were constantly trying to pester customers. They learned to stay a distance away.  In 2011, Jim bought a large length of fishing line. Using the corner of the equipment shed to the exterior fence posts, he crisscrossed a portion of the elderberries in a random manner. The fishing line was close enough in places to prevent birds from flying through and appeared to be effective in keeping the birds at bay.

Jim purchased a BirdGard SuperPro with 2 computer chips and 4 speakers. The 4 speakers were mounted at each corner of the equipment shed to project out over the 4-acre field. It is supposed to be effective for 6 acres. The 2 computer chips are rotated and project injured bird sounds and raptor calls in a random fashion. It is a little unnerving when working in the field but you get used to it. Sometimes we turn it off when we are working in the field.  It appeared to work very well most of the season.

 

PEST MANAGEMENT – INSECTS

Forest and/or tent caterpillars: Within 2 weeks after we planted our 800 blueberries in 2010, we noticed some leaves being eaten by forest caterpillars that came from the woods to the south. We hand-picked  some caterpillars but ended up spraying Bt to get them under control.

Subsequently, we have noticed some caterpillar damage on blue plums and cherry plums. We implemented weekly monitoring for eggs in the spring—April through June—and destroyed the eggs we noticed on the underside of leaves. Because our trees are small, this is not hard or time-consuming. We also left some yellow ID tags on our newly planted trees. These tags attracted the moths and shortly after eggs appeared. It was easy to crush the eggs. If we missed the eggs, we used a hand propane torch to burn the tent, eggs and/or small caterpillars. Weekly monitoring is key! This spring, we plan to hang yellow plastic strips from trees to attract moths and make it even easier to nip this problem in the bud.

Eriophyid mites: In the late summer and fall of 2012, we noticed some leaf curling in the Ranch elderberries in particular.  These were identified as eriophyid mites, which are microscopic pests that can cause cupping and crinkling of the foliage. Severe infestations can destroy florets and young fruit. The mites are believed to overwinter under buds and bud scales on above-ground portions of the plant (see our "Resources" section for Growing and Marketing Elderberries in Missouri).  We practice prevention by removing all prunings from the field.

We also applied beneficial nematodes (sourced from Peaceful Valley) in the fall of 2012. These nematodes attack the larval stages of soil-dwelling pests by entering their prey through body openings and releasing bacteria that kills its host within 48 hours. Nematodes also work against Japanese beetles, which we have not yet seen in our fields but has become a problem for other local growers, particularly grape producers.