Crop Outlook at Balsillie Fruit Farm, Harrow, Ontario

August 29, 2008: It's been awhile since we let you know our crop outlook - this year, we had little winter injury after several years of damage in various crops. We were nervous during bloom as several frost risks passes, and windy and wet conditions during bloom hampered bee pollination. So we were pleased to see adequate fruit set this spring. The rains finally let up the end of June, and the sunshine began. But it forgot to rain again, and we are in our 8th week of no significant rainfall. We are amazed at the good size fruit we are harvesting, and hope that the apple and pear crops finish as well as the tender fruit has come through.

May 23, 2005: Petal fall has begun on apples in our early orchard, and cherries and apricots are well into shuck. Still some flowers on peaches and strawberries, but there's lots of green fruit out in the field already. Despite a near-record cold winter, the prospects for good crops look good except for field raspberries and a light bloom in pears. Time will tell if the winters cold caused some tree damage. We've only had a few nights for irrigating strawberry blooms this year.

August 7, 2004: We are picking many of the summer fruit, including Redhaven peaches, European and Japanese plums, summer apples, fall raspberries and the first of the summer pears. We had a fabulous crop of rhubarb, that went well with a moderate crop of strawberries. Our cherries were delicious, those that the birds and rains didn't take, but we had a short crop of apricots. Our peaches are light due to some very cold temperatures in January. Our apple crop is looking better, except at our most inland farm, that was hurt by the spring frost and hail on Victoria Day weekend this spring. We are cutting glads & sunflowers, and the ornamental cabbages are growing well.

May 14, 2004: We are nearing the end of petal fall on many of the tree crops, and despite some severe winter cold, and 2 nights of hard spring frosts, we are optimistic about a good crop. We have green strawberries set in the field, and have started picking greenhouse raspberries and strawberries. Our new rhubarb is loving the frequent spring rains.

September 10, 2003: We have begun harvesting a beautiful crop of apples. Size is excellent after all the rains this year, and the set was surprisingly good after our poor pollination season in the spring. Our season is running about 2 weeks behind "normal", which puts us well behind last year. We still have 2 varieties of peaches, and 6 varieties of pears to pick. We are cutting the 3rd out of 5 plantings of glads, and are just starting into heavy picks of fall raspberries.

April 10, 2003: We had a long, cold winter, with some severe temperature drops last December that may have caused some trunk damage. However, we are optimistic for a full crop, and hope for little tree damage. The full extent of damage won't be evident until the first heat wave of the summer. There appears to be healthy fruit buds on most trees, despite the dry conditions last summer. We are thankful for irrigation on the home farm, and wish we could take the stress away with irrigation on our other farms.

October 1, 2002: We finally had an inch of rain this week, the first since July. Soils are desperately dry and we are concerned about tree health. Hopefully, we will be getting more rains to help trees winterize and recharge the soil moisture levels. We are looking forward to another month of picking apples, and will be picking raspberries in the field until frost, and in the greenhouse into December. Our strawberry crop has established nicely and we will be applying the floating cover after the heat wave this week.

May 25, 2002: We have had several frosts through our bloom period this year, but it looks like we still have fruit on the trees. We have saved the strawberry bloom with irrigation for frost protection and expect to start picking in about a week if the weather warms. The extent of frost damage will not be evident until we see how much fruit remains on the trees after June drop.

September 24, 2001: We had hail twice in May and June, no rain from June 2 to September and lots of hot days. We lost the blue plum crop to spring frost, and about 25% of the strawberry crop. But surprisingly, the crops have been better than expected. We had exceptional peaches this year, thanks to irrigation. Markets have been fairly good for most of the fruit, and we have been able to salvage some of the apples for fresh markets.

May 8, 2001: Bloom time on the farm again - some call it promise time, as all these flowers promise of the delicious fruit to come. Apricot bloom is finished, cherries and peaches have started petal fall, pears are near full bloom and apples continue to open variety by variety. Our strawberries are in full bloom thanks to the row covers, and field raspberries are mostly in leaf. Soil conditions seem very dry again, and when we sneak a few moments we will be firing up the irrigation already. So full crops are expected all around.

March 20, 2001: We have had steady cold temperatures and above normal snow cover this winter so we are optimistic about good bud and tree survival this spring. With all the rains last year, our fruit buds look abundant and strong. We are keeping a close eye on the field strawberries under the floating cover so all this sunshine does not push them ahead too fast - last year we had to pull the cover off for a few weeks to hold them back (see below).

August 7, 2000: It's been the rainiest farming season that we've experienced, but the harvest is good in spite of the weather. We had some hail damage in one of our orchards from July 14, but not as bad as some farmers. Fruit size is exceptional this year, and we have hardly irrigated, except for berries. Tree growth is phenomenal, so fruit buds should be strong for next year. Fighting disease has been a big problem this year, and we have good examples of fireblight, apple scab, anthracnose on strawberries, Botrytis on raspberries, and brown rot on stone fruit this year. But we haven't been hurt as badly as many farmers in Ontario and in the neighbouring states. From my Uncle Robert: Last year, it was a bad thing to live in the 4th driest area of Ontario. This year, it's a good thing to live in the 4th driest area of Ontario. We've had frequent rains, but not excessive amounts - but a little drier weather would be welcome now!

May 1, 2000: It's blossom time at Balsillie Fruit farm! Apricots are at petal fall, cherries and plums peaked in bloom this past weekend, and peach blossoms are opening by the hour. The first apples, Idared's are opening at the Sabbe farm, away from Lake Erie's cool breezes. Strawberries are almost full blossom, with only a few lost to last weeks frosts (thanks to Doug's midnight vigilance and the irrigation system). We had our second nice rain of the spring today, about 7/10", after more than 2" in the mid-April rain.

March 19, 2000: We are expecting little winter damage to fruit buds at this time, but the risk period is not over yet! We are pleasantly surprised that most apple varieties set a full crop of fruit buds, with a few of the Empire trees showing light fruit bud set. Peach trees are showing the spring red bark colour, and sweet cherries buds are starting to swell. We pulled the floating cover off the strawberries last week, because we thought the warm weather was pushing them ahead too fast.

February 19, 2000: We have experienced a steady, cold winter with more snow than normal. This makes it easier on fruit buds to stay dormant so we are hopeful of full crops at this time. We are ready to start apple pruning, but got snowed out on last Friday. Greenhouse work has begun, with our new crop of raspberries moved into the greenhouse.

July 11, 1999: We are finished harvesting strawberries and sweet cherries, and now heavily picking raspberries. We expect to pick raspberries until frost, but the next 2 weeks will be our heaviest crop. We can see the flowers already on the canes of fall berries. We have eaten our first peaches and will be picking Harrow Diamonds perhaps by next weekend. We will pick our first apricots tomorrow, and they taste really good. Early Golden plums will be ready by next weekend, and our first apple, Sumac, have a few apples ready now.

We have been irrigating daily on the home farm, and needed to hand thin many of the trees - it's quite a job! The hot weather last week was tough on our non-irrigated crops, so we need another inch of rain each week for them. Fruit size in apples, pears and peaches looks very good for this early in the season.

June 9, 1999: Strawberry harvest is continuing and we are expecting about 2 more weeks of harvest. We've had lots of compliments about the quality of our berries. The apple set looks good, and we've started hand thinning. Peach set is very good, and we will start thinning them as soon as we see June drop. Apricots are about 1" round, and cherries are starting to colour. Raspberries are in full flower with early cultivars showing green fruit. Pear set appears heavy where bloom was good. Rains have been good recently, but we continue to irrigate with this very hot weather. It's pretty hard on the workers too!

May 23, 1999: Bloom season is pretty well over for our trees. We had good bloom and bee activity in all but a few trees at home. Beehives have been removed, and gone to summer pastures. We are now into chemically thinning apples, and controlling the myriad of pests that like to come in at petal fall.

Our new Sunrise trees are growing well, and have been watered twice by hand and 3x by rain this week. Our potted raspberries are mostly all growing now, and we need to finish up the spaghetti watering system.

Strawberry harvest has just started and the potential is there for heavy picking for the next few weeks. The first raspberry blooms in Autumn Bliss (summer crop) came out today.

April 28, 1999: We are into our blossom season again. All crops look like they will have a full bloom, and we already have bees in place for our strawberries. We have had frost 4 nights in the last 2 weeks, and have been able to protect our strawberry blossoms with irrigation. We had good bee activity the last 2 days, and can see some small green berries already - that means about 3 weeks to our first berries.

Our raspberries are all tied up on the trellis, and new shoots are 4 to 6" tall already on our Chilcoltins. We have 1200 pots of new raspberries planted for our greenhouse project this fall. We are still pruning apples, a little behind because we missed so many days with rain, but not as far behind as last year's early spring. We are waiting a few more days for the soil to dry to plant about 600 trees of Sunrise apples. Peaches will be in bloom the next warm day, and we like to start pruning peaches when bloom starts.

April 2, 1999: Warm temperatures have arrived early again this year, although our proximity to Lake Erie gives us cooler temperatures that other areas. All the trees and plants look good, and buds are beginning to swell. We had about 3 times during the winter when temperatures fell down near -20C, but we are hopeful that we don't have much bud damage.

Pruning is in full swing, and we have been tying raspberry canes to the trellis in this warmer weather. Some of the fertilizer has been applied, and the grass is starting to green up. The chickweed is in bloom already under the trees.

February 14, 1999: We are expecting a full bloom this spring. Winter temperatures have not fallen below -15C yet this winter. Rains have helped replenish soil moisture, but we are still worried about dry soil conditions, especially below the 2' level. Our tile drains have been running for about 2 weeks, which says that the frost is beginning to come out of the ground.

The annual pruning job for apples will begin tomorrow. It takes about 2 months to prune all the apples for structural improvements. We also prune during June to direct growth around the fruit spurs, to feed the apples, and again in August to remove shade and improve the red colour on apples.

Tender fruit pruning is delayed until less risk of cold temperatures nearer spring, and peach pruning is delayed until May (near bloom) to reduce infections in pruning cuts from canker disease.


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