2018-05-31 / Life in Leelanau

Bees & Trees

Pollination, pests, disease present challenges for cherry industry’s newest members
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff

SPRING GROWTH. Sarah and Phil Hallstedt check the flowering trees in their orchard. The couple manages six varieties of cherries at Hallstedt Homestead. SPRING GROWTH. Sarah and Phil Hallstedt check the flowering trees in their orchard. The couple manages six varieties of cherries at Hallstedt Homestead. Editors note: Cherries are Leelanau County’s most important — and dare we say popular — agricultural crop. This week, Jen Murphy continues a monthly series about a Leelanau Township couple that has decided to take the plunge and enter the industry.

Growing cherries can be a little like caring for Goldilocks.

Everything needs to be “just right.”

Especially when it comes to encouraging growth, preventing disease and eliminating pests this time of year. It’s not that the trees are particularly temperamental, it’s just that there’s a lot of care involved to keep them healthy.

Hallstedt Homestead owners Sarah and Phil Hallstedt are more than familiar with this concept. And with six different varieties of cherries in their orchards and nearly 25 acres of trees, there’s a lot to manage.

WINTER ROT. Phil Hallstedt, co-owner of Hallstedt Homestead, inspects his orchard and makes a disheartening discovery on one of the trees. “It’s called ‘winter rot.’ Just makes me sick,” he said. WINTER ROT. Phil Hallstedt, co-owner of Hallstedt Homestead, inspects his orchard and makes a disheartening discovery on one of the trees. “It’s called ‘winter rot.’ Just makes me sick,” he said. “We are trying to protect the bloom,” Phil Hallstedt said.

His top three priorities to address this time of year are ensuring pollination, deer management and brown rot.

For the trees to grow cherries, the blossoms need to be fertilized. And that means bees.

“We realize how important the bees are. We do anything we can to protect the bees,” he said.

They’ll use minerals like boron instead of fertilizers or fungicides. And Sarah Hallstedt said they spray during the evening hours so bees are back in the hive.

“We also spray pollen for the bees,” she said. This is an extra expense, but according to Phil Hallstedt the $3,000 cost is money well spent to help the bees find their way to the trees.

Overall, the Hallstedt Homestead uses two hives per acre for their 22 acres of trees. “To me, that’s low,” Phil Hallstedt said. “In the past, we supplemented with bumblebees. We used another 12 hives because they will fly when honeybees won’t. But we decided not to do it this year because it’s a lot of money.”

Sometimes the bees and extra pollen aren’t enough.

“Some trees will bear like crazy. They will overproduce. Others don’t want to become fertile — you can have bloom, but you need bees,” Phil Hallstedt said.

For those more stubborn-to-fertilize trees, Sarah Hallstedt said they use a special product to extend the time of the bloom so the bees have more time to fertilize. “We use a natural hormone called “ReTain” for those trees that don’t want to be pollinated,” Sarah Hallstedt said.

Of course, the trees have to be kept healthy in order to grow the cherries after the bees have finished their work.

“There are things we can do to decrease pests and disease. It’s a war,” Phil Hallstedt said. “But it’s how we work with nature for nature to help us.

“We are not spraying organic. I think organic growing does have a place — when you have produce with a high surface area like spinach or lettuce, and you have a significant area that’s consumed. When you have a spherical fruit, like cherries or apples, the health risk is fairly low. You just cannot grow sweet cherries in northern Michigan organically.”

Hallstedt Homestead farm manager Matthew Maus had some thoughts about organic cherry production as well.

“You couldn’t grow cherries in a plantation or monoculture style organically,” he said. “To grow high quantity, you can’t do it organically. You would have to have a polyculture of crops to mitigate pests.”

And as Hallstedt Homestead is a monoculture of cherries, spraying is a way of life. But it’s kept to a minimum. “You can’t carpet bomb,” Phil Hallstedt said. “Take nemotodes for example. There are certain types that are damaging, but they live alongside the beneficial ones. When you carpet bomb, it kills everything. We are trying to achieve a balance to keep the pests at bay.

“We try to minimize the spray use and optimize the balance between what is beneficial and what is not,” he said.

The Hallstedts strive for ecological balance through integrated pest management (IPM) and only spray to address a specific need with the minimum amount that is needed.

Right now, they are battling against brown rot, which is a fungal disease that affects stone-fruit trees like cherries. According to Sarah Hallstedt said the fungus is spread by the wind. “Spores released when it’s wet and over 60,” she said. “You can have tens of thousands of spores in the grass below — there are huge amounts out there.”

Basically, it means they have their work cut out for them. And Phil Hallstedt is committed to using the right chemical to address the issue.

“It’s not a recipe, it’s an art also,” he said.

And because it’s an art that they are just starting to learn, Phil and Sarah Hallstedt seek consultation from outside sources. Besides other local farmers, the Northport cherry growers heed advice from the scouts provided by the chemical distributors, as well as employing an independent scout.

Seeking outside counsel is common practice to use, even among experienced farmers, according to Phil Hallstedt.

For example, he said when one scout recommended a pure dormant spray, “the independent scout recommended a dormant plus an added agent to help alleviate a specific pest. He actually recommended a more aggressive treatment,” Phil Hallstedt said. “It’s another opinion, and we like that.”

These efforts are not cheap. By the end of the season, the Hallstedts will spend around $25,000 on chemicals.

And if disaster struck and the cherries were gone, this treatment would still have to continue, said Sarah Hallstedt. “Even if we lose everything tomorrow with a frost, we still have to spray, fertilize and care for the trees,” she said. “Things will spread anyway and ruin next year’s harvest if they don’t keep on top of pests and diseases now.”

Fortunately, both Sarah and Phil Hallstedt feel confident in their efforts.

“What we are trying to do is produce quality fruit in a safe manner. It’s a complicated job.”

All of this work, continued learning, lost sleep and worry — is it all worth it?

“It is worth it,” said Phil Hallstedt. “We have to adapt. That’s a choice.”

Interested in helping at the Hallstedt Homestead?

They are always looking for volunteers and have started a new program this year: Hallstedt Homestead Heroes.

“If people want to help, they are welcome to come help. We are always looking for those interested in making money, as well as those who want to volunteer,” said Phil Hallstedt.

If interested, please email Phil Hallstedt at phallstedt@gmail.com.

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