Northern Light Orchards - 2016 Year in Review
"The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer.”
- Will Rogers
An unusually warm spring allowed us to begin pruning April 7. Dry condition persisted through April. After pruning I applied liquid organic fertilizer. On May 1st the blooms began to appear, about 10 days earlier than normal. On May 4th the thermometer hit 32 C. Thankfully this heat also activated the honeybees so initial fruit set was good. Unfortunately the weather remained dry but turned ugly in the middle of flowering which kept the bees huddled in their hives, resulting in an overall disappointing fruit set. I determined by mid May that about 30% of the new haskap we had planted the previous spring had died as a result of a combination of factors, rodent damage being one.
I am convinced after seeing the productivity of various orchards surrounded by natural habitat or forages that peak productivity is possible only with a large population of bumblebees as they will continue visiting flowers even in cold, wet, or windy conditions. While our orchard has an abundance of clover and a few acres of native trees we are not able to control agricultural practices on the annually cropped lands that surround us. Unfortunately for us the bumblebee subspecies that is commonly propagated and used for pollination in much of the country has not been approved in Saskatchewan for use outside.
We are beginning to reap rewards for our focus on holistic orchard management. The white clover cover between the rows is building a nutrition rich healthy soil. Rain now penetrates readily instead of running off. The clover has almost eliminated the weeds. The benefits of the clover are multiplied because the mulch from mowing is distributed under the haskap. This feeds the soil with nutrients and protects the surface from the hot sun and drying winds.
On May 31 the orchard finally received some much needed rain. On the 3rd of June (about 2 weeks earlier than usual) the waxwings arrived to begin eating their way through our crop despite our expanded bird deterrents. On June 8 I discovered that a raccoon had raided what I thought were well secured rodent bait stations around the buildings that we are required by CFIA to maintain. It was a tough animal as, despite several days of ever increased security measures on my part, that raccoon continued to raid those stations, eating enough rat poison to kill any human many times over. I re-secured the boxes each day for several days with ever more diligence until they could not be moved or destroyed short of being eaten into or smashed with a sledge. Finally that problem was solved!
On June 16 the orchard enjoyed another small 11 mm rain; the second drink since the very small snow pack had melted. I think 2016 was the first year that drip irrigation would have been a major asset. There was a huge and very gusty wind on June 17 that blew off a lot of the biggest and ripest fruit. I estimate we lost between 1500 and 2000 kg of ripe fruit in less than 12 hours! In between these memorable events I mowed grass, chased birds, and prepared for harvest.
We began harvest June 22, a week and a half ahead of normal. The weather continued hot and dry until it rained June 26; too late to help fill the fruit. Hoping time would help even the last of the unevenly mature fruit to ripen we harvested intermittently till we made a last pass on some of the rows July 5th to salvage some stragglers.
Once everything was cleaned up and shipped it was back to regular maintenance in the orchard till September 2nd when I did some basal pruning prior to applying fall fertilizer.
On October 4th it began snowing. By the time it stopped a week later the heavy wet snow had flattened the still fully leafed haskap beyond recognition. Amazingly, the snow was almost all gone by November 3rd, allowing the haskap to right themselves and prepare properly for winter. Fall work continued. I took soil samples, began a major pruning on some of the oldest plants, and hired a young guy to help replace the young haskap that had died the previous summer and winter. I was excited to discover earthworms in almost every transplant hole, a complete reversal of the complete lack of earthworms when we began planting our orchard into former annually cropped land in 2008. The weather remained relatively warm and dry till November 13, allowing me to continue pruning until then.
On the marketing front Northern Light Orchards is happy to be have marketed all of our own harvest and most of the harvest from three other haskap orchards. We have made some advances into new markets including the Emerald Park IGA, Fresh and Local in Regina, and the FG market in Osler. We recently began supplying haskap ingredient to another business so keep posted for the announcement of the release of a new product as a result of that soon. Our Northern Light Orchards premium frozen berries are also being used for cancer research at Dalhousie University.
On the home front, Sandra and I continue to enjoy haskap almost every day in smoothies, home-made sodas, on baking and morning cereal and particularly with the aid of Sandra’s wine making efforts. After harvest Sandra and I traveled first to northern Alberta then to eastern Canada with our trusty Subaru and were encouraged along the way with very positive haskap wine reviews by a couple self-professed wine connoisseurs.
Thank you to everyone who continues to provide support in any way to our endevours.
You make our efforts even more rewarding. We couldn’t do this without you.
Happy Holidays and may you all have an awesome 2017!
PS: This photo is of us sampling a glass of wine overlooking Mike Wier’s vineyard.