Serve – Sep 2017

May Farm of Benzie County, MI. Photo by same

The May Farm Pollinator Project

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

The May Farm in Benzie County raises cattle, sheep and chickens on a rather small plot of rented land near the corners of Lobb and Graves roads in Frankfort, MI.  Farmer Paul May rents the pasture and installed electric fencing eight years ago.  The land was fallow and degraded.  Beginning slowly, animals were put on the land and moved section by section following a rotational grazing pattern.  Cattle and sheep graze the pasture and are moved daily to ‘fresh’ ground.  Broiler chickens follow helping to process the ruminant leavings and add their own.

Visiting Paul on the pasture requires a bit of time, especially if you catch him and he begins talking about the ‘result’ of rotational grazing. He is passionate about the web of life created between the soil, the plants, and the animals.  He is observing dramatic changes in the plants in the pasture.  The soil is improving, the plants are improving, the animals are growing better with the better nutrition, and the pasture is becoming more resilient.  As a result, the pasture can support more animals in smaller spaces.  The more compact the daily space, the greater impact on the plants and soil and the longer plant recovery time.

“Today’s “cute puppy” photo. Just after the daily afternoon move, everyone joyfully noshing on the “ice cream”. The forage is at it’s best in the afternoon, unless it’s nasty hot, and I try to size the paddocks so that they’re ready to eat, but not lacking. It’s not weight-loss camp, after all. And, with the beautiful timely rains we’ve had, there is plenty of feed. So, seriously, if you’re within reach, catch me for the afternoon move. It really is cool!”

-Paul May of May Farm via Facebook. Photo by same

I recently visited the pasture at the end of the day when it was time to move the animals.  The 20 cattle and 28 sheep begin to get in line when Paul shows up. They watch him carefully as he moves fencing, refills water barrels, and opens the ‘door’ to fresh clean pasture into which the animals rush.  Behind, they leave cow pies that are already being broken down by dung beetles and grazed plants ready to be nourished and regrow. 

The May Farm receives some funding from the USDA / NRCS for Paul’s farming practices.  A recent grant includes a requirement for establishing a pollinator garden outside of the pasture.  For the size of his pasture, the garden must be .3 of an acre or 13,068 square feet.  Because Paul’s head is into ruminate feed and soil building and animal raising, he asked Plant It Wild to help with the May Farm Pasture Pollinator Project.

A committee of three, two Master Gardeners and a third Plant It Wild member volunteered.  To date, we have researched and accumulated the information summarized below:

  • site evaluation for invasive plant species
  • site measurements for garden location between the pasture fence and road easement to capture 13,000 square feet
  • list of canopy, understory, shrub, forb, and grass plants best suited to dry, upland conditions
  • information on plant value to pollinators, larval hosts, birds, and the like
  • plant/seed sourcing possibilities and estimated costs
  • planting and seeding design
  • seeding method
  • pollinator shelter suggestions

We are aided in our work through the following sources:

  • Attracting Native Pollinators, The Xerces Society Guide, c 2011
  • Pollinators of Native Plants, Heather Holm, c 2014
  • Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan, Lynn M. Steiner, c 2006
  • NRCS Lists of plants suitable for pollinator habitat (link)
  • Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy, c 2007

Paul May will have received a completed report from us by the end of August which will outline selected plants, a planting plan, optional plant sourcing, and more.  On October 14, the May Farm will host a Pasture Walk from 10am – 2pm.  All are welcome.  Paul will be educating the public on his farming practices and engaging his customers in his rotational grazing and environmentally beneficial farming practices.  Locally sourced food and May Farm meats will be served.   Plant It Wild and Master Gardeners will have an opportunity to present information on the pollinator project planned for the pasture edge to meet USDA and NRCS requirements.   

While our role is informational and advisory, gardeners cannot help but want to get dirty.  I suspect that Phyllis Robinson, MG, Joy Kennedy, and I will be on hand for at least part of the garden installation in September of 2018. 

Reversing the trend in pollinator and migratory bird decline is something everyone can do.  There are tremendous, timely resources available through bookstores, MSU, USDA and other on-line sources.  The most recent data shows that using straight native plant species is the MOST beneficial to the insects and birds we are trying to feed.  Plants from other continents and cultivars are not recommended for pollinator gardens.  Click here to see the May Farm Pollinator Report including the dry-upland plant list.

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