New Projects at Balsillie's Fruit Farm - August 2008

| More sweet cherries new| New apples growing new| Rhubarb new| Flowers, Flowers, Flowers UPDATED | Berry Crops in Greenhouse UPDATED| Strawberry tip production UPDATED | Our 14th greenhouse raspberry crop UPDATED | Fruit Wagon Completed | Solaxe Training | Plasticulture strawberries UPDATED |

Our field of sweet cherries on dwarfing Giesela rootstocks had a heavy bloom this spring, and we finally got the bird netting closed up fairly effectively. The trees produced a heavy crop, but continuous rains all spring caused extensively fruit splitting to about half the crop. But what we harvested was great quality and sold well.

Our new apple plantings include Sunrise, Gingergold, Ambrosia, Silken and Aurora. Once people taste them, they want to know more about them, and are coming back each fall looking for their favourite flavours. We are still hunting for great tasting apples that do well in our climate and production system.

Our rhubarb grew very well this spring, and we pulled until late June. We have 2 varieties, Sutton and Valentine, and hope our customers enjoyed mixing this delicious vegetable (yes - officially rhubarb is a vegetable, although it is eaten like a fruit), with our strawberries and raspberries. We've mulched it heavily with grass and leaf compost, and now you can hardly walk through the rows.

We're still cutting some gorgeous gladioli varieties this year, and are have entered our glads in the Harrow Fair. Our fall mums - 18 varieties of yellow, bronze, red, white, maroon, multicoloured and orange - are just starting to flower. We love the names of mums - we've grown Megan, Sarah, Dazzling Stacey, Bright Stephanie and Blushing Emily - all people we know. Our daylilies are now big enough to dig some for sale this year. Let us know if you have any favourites we should try.

The fall raspberry crop is now cropping in the greenhouse and in the field. These Autumn Britten plants were outside since the spring, and were moved into the greenhouse in July. The pots of Tulameen are now outside to grow for the spring crop. We like the great size and fruit quality of the greenhouse raspberry crop - to say nothing of the fabulous flavour!

Production of rooted strawberry tips: We are still growing mostly Cavendish, and trying some new varieties, including Brunswick. Thanks to the tip from Dr. Adam Dale, University of Guelph, Simcoe, the lights that ran for 1 hour each night after midnight, to stimulate runnering, have worked very well. We can harvest runners for rooting in late June, put them in our misting bed, to be ready for field planting in mid-August. And this year, we allowed these plants to produce fruit, which we have picked for several weeks this spring.

The 2nd Fruit Wagon doubles as a flower wagon each fall, displaying mums and glads, plus our crop of pumpkins. In season, it is used in the field to protect picked berries from rain and sun, and to store our berry boxes while we harvest. We have made a few improvements to the design of the original wagon.

As well, we have put the new wagon to good use at family BBQ's.

Adapting the Solaxe training system for our high density apple orchards: Our high density orchards use dwarfing rootstock and tree support to induce apple trees to begin cropping at an early age. We began using the Vertical Axe system because we thought it used the tree's natural growth and fruiting habits better than other systems. But it didn't have all the answers.

Then we learned about the Solaxe system, and think that it produces calm and fruitful trees with the least imput costs. So we are moving to a training system that combines the best of the Vertical Axe and the Solaxe training systems. Trees grown in this system produce some apples in their 2nd year, reaching the goal of 2 bushels/tree beginning in the 4th year. Early production allows a grower to recoup his investment in planting the orchard. Less ladder work is needed for pruning, thinning or harvesting, which helps reduce labour costs. New varieties that are in demand can be brought into production quickly to meet the changing market. High quality of fruit is produced because most apples are well exposed to sunlight.

With success in using this system on apples, we are adapting it for all our fruit trees and hope to quickly bring all our new plantings into production.

Strawberries on plasticulture: We started this project in 1998 and have now picked our 11h planting. This method of growing strawberries requires a large investment because plant populations are much increased over the traditional matted row system. There is more labour costs because runners have to be removed. And there is a higher risk, because the plants are on raised beds vulnerable to winter injury, and earlier blooms mean more risk of frost killing the blossoms. Our harvests have been very successful, with the best cultivars producing 1 pound per plant. We are using mostly the best cultivar, Cavendish in our new plantings, but keep testing some new varieties when we can.

For the past 7 years, we have kept a field for a 2nd harvest. After harvesting the berries and the runner tips, we mow the plants off and blow the debris off the plastic with a leaf blower. They quickly regrow, and we will cover them with a floating row cover all fall to force more flower bud production. We have been satisfied with size and quality from 2nd year plantings, but the crowns get too thick to save them for a third year.

For more information see our Strawberry page.

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