Learning the latest in Nova Scotia orchards
By Dan Woolley
By Dan Woolley
New plantings and new players in the Annapolis Valley tree fruit industry were prominently featured during the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association (NSFGA) annual orchard tour
New plantings and new players in the Annapolis Valley tree fruit industry were prominently featured during the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association (NSFGA) annual orchard tour, held this past summer in conjunction with the Canadian Horticultural Council’s mid-summer apple meeting.
Luckett Farms Ltd.
Pete Luckett, Nova Scotia’s best-known green grocer, bought an 100-acre farm 11 years ago on the Grand Pre Road in Wallbrook, Kings County. Since then, he has replaced the property’s large pasture and old orchard, replanting all but eight acres with blocks of Royal Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Royal Cortland apples, plus new plantings of cherries, peaches, pears, plums, grapes and highbush blueberries.
Luckett started planting blueberries eight years ago and now has three acres of them under cultivation and on drip irrigation.
He also has 15 acres of grapes and says, given Nova Scotia’s humid summers, he generally doesn’t need irrigation. At the start of the growing season, he has a crew of 15 workers in the vineyard trimming back the rows and plucking leaves to open up the vines for more airflow and sunlight to ripen the grapes.
The red Alsatian cultivar Leon Millot was his first grape planting and in 2010 he planted Traminette, crossbred from the Gewürztraminer and the French American hybrid Joannes Seyve. This is believed to be the first planting of the U.S.-developed variety in Canada.
This past July, Luckett Vineyards and Luckett Farms Ltd. opened its new winery.
Several years ago, Robert Peill took over his late father’s orchard at Lower Starr’s Point. He removed the old apple trees, replanting with Ambrosia and Royal Cortland on M9 rootstock. Peill also planted three hectares of sweet cherries, a block of Staccato in 2007 followed by a second planting on Mazzard rootstock.
He also planted on Gisela rootstock but reports he had trouble getting growth on it. In 2010, he discovered that by extensively pruning his trees in May, his tree growth improved. He also began to revert from an open centre pruning technique to a central leader system in 2010, which gave him more tree canopy close to the trunk.
Besides Staccato, Peill has also planted Sweetheart, Lappin, and Rainier sweet cherry varieties. His goal is to have a later harvest after Washington State and British Columbia have picked their fruit.
Bill Craig, tree fruit specialist with Agra Point, says cherries have been “hit and miss” in Nova Scotia, cycling through increased and decreased production.
Nova Scotia hosts the only site in Canada for the international NC 140 cherry rootstock trial at the Atlantic Food and Horticultural Research Centre in Kentville. Charles Embree, a tree fruit researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), says the centre is currently trialling the cultivar Skeena on G3, G4 and G5 rootstocks, and using three training systems: tall spindle, the UFO system and the KGB system.
AAFC researchers are also doing trials comparing use of a Haygrove tunnel system to no-tunnel for NC 140 cherry rootstock production.
At RJ Farm, near Welsford, N.S., owner Rene Penner moved to Nova Scotia from the western provinces with no prior experience of orchard management. Since then, he has demonstrated how to reclaim marginal land for apple production.
In 2004, after buying the farm, Penner began draining the land for an orchard. The property consisted of pasture with 18 acres of old apple orchard. He tore some of the old blocks out, planting a six-acre block of mostly Honeycrisp each year.
Penner prepared the land for his extended orchard by ripping the soil, then ridging and tiling it 16 feet apart down each orchard row.
His most recent block, acquired through the Scotian Gold Cooperative, is the club apple Sweet Tango.
“The growth is much more than I expected,” he says.
“It is performing so well,” says Craig, noting, “ Nova Scotia [through Scotian Gold] is one of the few areas of Canada licensed to grow Sweet Tango.”
At Waldo Walsh’s Birchleigh Farm in Rockland, N.S., he has a showcase 10-acre block of various cultivar and rootstock combinations, including Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp on Malling 26; Honeycrisp on CG 30, Malling 4 and Malling, plus Gala and Pacific on Malling 26.
Walsh has a 90-acre orchard with eight acres of cherries, plums and pears. The remainder is planted with apples.
Walsh recently received a research grant to evaluate the N. Blosi self-propelled orchard platform for use in Nova Scotia. He says its diesel engine is very fuel-efficient, has auto steering and can work in a row as narrow as 12 feet wide. The platform can also be widened to work in an 18-foot-wide row spacing. It performs well on pruning and clipping, Walsh says. As the price of conduit has increased, he hopes to convert to a tree wall system on a five-wire trellis.
At Sarsfield Farms in Medford, N.S., Embree and Doug Nichols, an NSFGA research technician, are continuing their evaluation of new thinners. They are conducting their trials in a block of Honeycrisp on M26 set out by Blake Sarsfield in 2007. Since growers are losing the use of 7XLR, Nichols says they want to look at alternative thinners, their efficacy and application rates.
“We are looking at early petal treatment to see what results in subsequent bloom.”
While it is very early in the trials, Nichols is pleased with the performance of a combination of Fruitone and Maxcell. The mix appears to be a very promising alternative to 7XLR.
Embree observed there were a lot more blossoms in 2011 that growers had to manage.
“So, do we go back in and hand thin?” he asked. “As growers, [you] must walk through the orchard and decide. When you put it in the tank and thin; it’s a big decision. You don’t want to make a mistake with Honeycrisp.”
“If you have a heavy bloom and good pollination, you will probably have more fruit than you need,” says Nichols. “If you are using Maxcell, it is better to go with the recommended rate rather than the reduced rate. Or, use Maxcell with Fruitone.”
In future, the team plans to apply thinning treatments to Cortland and Ambrosia to check their effect on maturity.