Atlantic Canada strawberry rookies learn the ropes
By Dan Woolley
By Dan Woolley
Trial and error is how Kent and Cindy Thompson made their first foray into strawberry production – along with some helpful advice from a berry extension specialist.
In 2008, Kent and Cindy decided to return to their rural roots, buying her parents’ farm located near Oxford, N.S.
The couple decided they wanted to grow strawberries. So they bought used equipment, and borrowed or hired any machinery they did not have.
The Thompsons recognized they had a steep learning curve ahead of them, so they contacted berry crop extension specialist John Lewis of Perennia. He advised them to soil sample the farm and then apply compost.
“There is no Welcome Wagon for new entrants,” said Cindy.
With the compost applied and their initial three acres prepared, the couple ordered their first 15,000 plants.
The Thompsons both emphasize it is essential to prepare the soil properly and also to learn how to correctly do all of those important tasks. They say that among other jobs, it’s important to learn about spraying, when to buy straw for the berry beds, how to pack the harvested fruit, how and when to use frost protection and protect against sun scald, how to scout for and control pests and how to do post-harvest renovation.
Since their return to the farm, the Thompsons have embraced strawberry production and shared some of their production practices.
Kent favours the use of close row spacing – 42 inches – for improved yield and better disease control.
Because of their farm’s light, sandy soils, the Thompsons recognized the importance of timely irrigation. Building on their irrigation system, they plan to install an automatic temperature monitor to trigger the system if frost is imminent.
They use Sinbar and 2,4 D as their herbicides, said Kent.
“We spend a lot of time hand weeding and we spot spray frequently,” he added.
Pre-harvest, the couple monitor diligently for cyclamen mite. Once berry harvest begins, they employ offshore workers and try to get their picked berries out of the field every hour and into the cooler.
Following harvest in the fall, the Thompsons till their beds to get rid of the daughter plants.
Cindy recommends growers keep a journal of everything they do in the field.
“We find it helps,” she says.
Kent said operating the berry farm would be impossible without establishing strong partnerships with people like John Lewis.
The Thompsons hope to continue strawberry production this season, providing more roadside sales from the farm market they established in 2012.