Sunday, October 8, 2017

New Brunswick Apple Growers Association

 August 10-16, 2017 I was the guest of the Apple Growers of New Brunswick presided over by my good buddy Andrew Lovell of River View Orchards in Keswick. Our itinerary was several grower visits followed by their Annual Grower Meeting at the Mactaquac Inn on August 16. Although not a real vacation, I always highly enjoy going to Canada, finding everyone friendly, it's clean, and has some awesome scenery. Oh, and there were a couple boat outings involved, one of my favorite activities. There's a lot of water in Atlantic Canada! Let me detail some of the orchard visits we made in New Brunswick, where, although it is a small apple industry, there are some very progressive growers and there is interest in expanding -- particularly growing more Honeycrisp, which they can do quite well. (Second to none, really, eh?)

First up on Thursday, August 10 was Verger Belliveau Orchard in Memramcook. There, Garth Nickerson, Crop Development Specialist with the New Brunswick Dept. of Agriculture, Aquiculture, and Fisheries met up with Robert Bourgeous, owner of Verger Belliveau. (Let me give a quick shout-out here to Garth before I forget, who spent much time with me over the course of a week, driving many miles, introducing me to the growers, sharing some lunches, a little bike riding, some local beer and food. Thanks friend.) Robert, Garth and I looked at a block of young apple trees, McIntosh, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Gingergold, and Gala planted on M.9, B.9, and G.202 rootstocks. The NB growers think G.202 is  particularly good with Honeycrisp on top in their climate. I noted their use of hay/straw mulch, being concerned with vole damage, but Robert insisted that was not a problem, one reason they bait heavily and mow frequently. The mulch conserves moisture (no irrigation here) and may help prevent cold injury during open winters.

We also stopped at a trial organic apple orchard, which looked pretty good in my opinion (for an organic block of trees). We then moved to their home orchard, where we met up with Sam, Robert's son, and Nathalie Beliveau, their orchard consultant. We looked at a planting of Evangeline, a new variety that the NB Apple Growers own, and to be frank, they are trying to figure out what to do with it? Evangeline plantings are just coming into bearing, so time will tell, but my bet is it will become a local niche apple, and perhaps be a very good cider apple too. Speaking of cider, Sam and Robert (but mostly Sam I think!) have successfully introduced Scow Craft Cider, which has become an important part of their diversified and expanding apple orchard business. No doubt they are a major player in NB apples, having the largest packing line and storage in the Province. Oh, and we had a nice lunch (thanks Robert and Sam) in Shediac, "Lobster Capital of the World" and where purportedly the salt water beach actually has warm water. (Not that I was allowed to take a dip in it, I didn't have my Speedo with me!)

Young apple trees on Geneva 202 Rootstock at
Verger Belliveau Orchard
Organic apple block at Verger Belliveau Orchard
Evangeline apples at Verger Belliveau Orchard

Up next, La Fleur du Pommier, aka The Apple Flower, in Cocagne. Realize New Brunswick is the only delegated bi-lingual, English/French speaking Province in Canada. The French language, particularly in the eastern/Moncton area is widely spoken by many, along with English, including these apple growers. Interesting trying to follow their -- which included at The Apple Flower, former owner Euclide Bourgeois, and new owners Pavel Borgeois (Euclides son), Jean-Francois Michaud, and Ken Carrier -- bilingual conversation. (Same at Verger Belliveau, sometimes I wondered if they were talking about me?) OK, these guys are long-time accomplished orchardists, and there was little to fault (if anything) during the walk-about of their orchard. We noted the rather vigorous growth habit of Evangeline, and thus the need to keep up with removing larger branches in their young tall-spindle blocks. Not so much a problem with Honeycrisp, even on the more vigorous Geneva 202 and 935 rootstocks. I will say their young tall-spindle plantings were very nicely managed. Some older Honeycrisp blocks on Beautiful Arcade (BA) were a novelty, as well as their token peach and cherry trees, which we attempted to talk about pruning, but ultimately I gave up! After surveying La Fleur du Pommier, we made a quick trip to nearby Uris Williams & Sons which was recently acquired by Ken Carrier. There, we discussed the biennial nature of Ginger Gold, where return bloom sprays might be of benefit, and a block of older, vigorous Cortland, where reduced pruning and using ReTain for prolonged harvest management were advised.

Tall-spindle Evangeline apples at La Fleur du Pommier
Obviously accomplished orchardists at La Fleur du Pommier
A little more hand thinning needed here at La Fleur du Pommier

Friday, August 11 - Although promised a trip to Mrs. Dunster's Donuts by Andrew Lovell we only had enough time to visit his friend Eric Walker's dairy farm near Sussex, where Eric's father (his name escapes me now? sorry...) gave us a look-through at their new automated dairy barn. They milk about 150 Holstein cows using three milking "robots" which cost about $200,000 each. Hailing from Vermont you would think I would know something about the modernization of the dairy industry but I was pretty blown-away by the automation and how those milking robots accomplish their task of manual "hands-off" milking every cow 24/7. I will say when I suggested this is almost 100% automated, I got a chuckle out of Eric's dad meaning, yea right, things still go wrong and need fixing! But you'd think if they can figure out how to do that, well then, can automated harvesting of apples is in an orchard near you be very far off! We ate lunch with Corn Hill Nursery's owner Bob Osborne at their Cedar Cafe. A transplant many years ago from the USA, Bob runs a thriving ornamental nursery and woody plant propagation business with customers mostly from the greater Moncton, NB area. Using his propagation skills, he also grows a limited number of mostly grafted apple trees in a couple small nurseries for local growers. Dry weather in NB this summer has hampered nursery tree growth, however, a block of 2-year-old apple trees looked pretty good and will be ready for delivery in 2018. Did I mention how great the lunch on the deck at Cedar Cafe was? And I was able to snag a bag of Mrs. Dunsters on my way out of NB on the way home!

In the afternoon, following a scenic ride eastward through some beautiful NB farm country, we arrived in Kiersteadville on Belleisle Bay just off the St. John River. Steve and Bob Bates, who's primary vocation has been growing vegetables, have planted tall-spindle orchard blocks of Honeycrisp and Ambrosia over the past 2-3 years. They were anxious to see how they did, and overall the planting looked real nice. One major stumble, however, was the lack of tree support given to newly planted trees -- they were waiting for bamboo from Nova Scotia (damn Nova Scotians!) yet had all their wires and line posts in, trees could have easily been fastened to the wires for support. (BTW, I recommend U-Hooks for doing that.) Another discussion we had was the extensive use of individual bamboo tree stakes, even thought they were also using 4-wires down the row, my thought being why not ditch the bamboo (recommended by Nova Scotians, again damn Nova Scotians!) and just use the wires for support. The downside being they might have to provide some kind of vertical stabilizer (like how they use a vertical wire between horizontal wires "tree stabilizer system" in western New York, details available from Finger Lakes Trellis Supply) to assist in training trees vertical? Following a delightful home cooked meal on the deck of Bob and Janice Bates home, I was treated to a nice boat ride on the St John River by father-in-law Brad. I won't detail how we almost lost Bob overboard, but it was needless to say a tense then laughable moment! Thanks to the Bates family for a delightful afternoon and evening, one puzzling thing being though is these Canadians like to drink Bud Light???!!!!

Nursery apple trees at Corn Hill Nursery
3rd-leaf Honeycrisp overlooking Bellesisle Bay at Bates Orchard

Over the weekend, Andrew took me to the Fredericton Farmer's Market, which was more than I bargained for, with many vendors, inside and out, selling their wares: vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, maple syrup, bakery, crafts, etc. Many options to choose from, quite impressive, reminded me of a smaller, one-day only on Saturday, version of Seattle's Pike Place. And, Eugene (Gene) Hoyt, who has always treated me like a friend when I visit New Brunswick or see him at IFTA meetings, took me to St. Andrews by the Sea for lunch and a little harbor wharf walking and sight seeing. St. Andrews by the Sea is a classic Atlantic seaside fishing/tourist destination, and many (many!) years ago as a college student and while working in Maine we (not with Gene though!) went there to drink Schooner Lager (beer!) at the Algonquin Inn because the drinking age in Canada was a year or two younger than the USA. "Today is the day to drink Schooner beer!" Oh, and I did a bit of bike riding on Fredericton's rather extensive recreation trail network, which included a stop at Picaroon's for an IPA and then Garth met me on the trail, where we ended up at a neat little Fredericton brewery/tap house called Gray Stone. Thanks to Andrew and Gene and Garth for a really enjoyable weekend!

Garth and I started the work week on Monday, August 14 with visits to three orchards near the St. John River just west of Fredericton. All three are also scheduled tour stops on Wednesday during the New Brunswick Apple Growers' Association Annual Meeting. First was Everett Family Orchard where we looked at six acres of well-manicured pick-your-own orchard with Chuck Everett. Unfortunately, some crops of Honeycrisp were on the light side where again a return bloom enhancing spray program is advised. Chuck has an interesting way of protecting newly planted trees from deer browsing too. It was clear Everett's has carved out a nice marketing niche for Fredericton locals seeking fresh air and locally grown u-pick apples. Next we visited Andrew Lovell at River View Orchards on Keswick Ridge. Too bad Andrew has been having a little battle with apple scab this season, but he sells a lot of deer apples and will muddle through it with pick-your-own too. A high-density planting of Evangeline was outfitted with soil probes that monitor temperature and moisture content, an experiment replicated in other locations, managed by consultant J. P. Prive for the NB Apple Growers and NB Province who fund the experiment. The objective is to see how soil and environmental conditions affect young Evangeline apple tree growth. After lunch we went to Hoyt Orchard Ltd. where former owner/new manager Eugene Hoyt (now owned by Mike O'blenis who also manages a local paper mill) showed us a brand new planting of Honeycrisp and Ambrosia apples on Geneva 202 and 935 rootstocks. Despite dry weather, the trees showed good growth on this old apple orchard ground which was fumigated to enhance new orchard establishment. Posts and wire were going in as we visited which we all agreed was overdue. Gene treated us to a very pleasant pontoon boat ride on a large backwater lake of the St. John River created by the Mactaquac dam. And thanks again to Garth for the steak BBQ supper (with some Argentinian Malbec red wine, Garth's favorite) at his house back in Fredericton.

With Chuck Everett looking at Honeycrisp crop
at Everett Family Orchard
Chuck Everett's solution to deer browsing
newly planted apple trees
With buddy Andrew Lovell at River Valley Orchards
Examining soil sensor experiment in Evangeline apple trees
at River Valley Orchards
With friend Eugene Hoyt surveying newly planted Honeycrisp
on G. 935 and 202 rootstocks at Hoyt Orchard
Gene Hoyt and Garth working hard (someone's got to do it!)
on Mactaquac dam backwater of St. John River

Tuesday, August 15 Garth and I took a drive upstream to visit Jolly Farmer in Northampton. I had no idea, but Jolly Farmer is a 10 acre greenhouse growing herbaceous/bedding plants for the nursery/garden center business in both Canada and the USA. They wholesale mostly cell-pack containers and plugs which are finished out by their customers. We took a quick tour of their modern and clean growing greenhouses and operations/shipping buildings with Joel English who is in charge. Interestingly, Jolly Farmer also has a small orchard operated family owner Hoey Jacob. Turns out Hoey operated a large wholesale orchard in New Hampshire back in the days when wholesale was profitable in New England. Hoey is no slouch when it comes to knowing how to grow apples, but their take on IPM practices, including extensive monitoring and trapping to determine pest presence was commendable. They were having a problem with trunk borers, probably exacerbated by weed and grass growth right up to the trunks of trees, but we discussed how to address that issue, mostly by improving the situation at the base of the trees (cleaning up the ground-cover) and using an insecticide where necessary. It was an enjoyable visit to Jolly Farmer. From there we drove up the River a bit to Dukeshire's Apples Orchard Shade Farms where we met up with George and Patty Dukeshire. Orchard Shade reminded me of certain Vermont wholesale apple orchards, when I became familiar with them working at the University of Vermont. Wholesale apple growing, particularly McIntosh, reached a peak in the 70's and 80's in New England, but after the outing of Alar, went into a mostly death spiral. Some orchards chose to go the retail direct-marketing route, and many of those are currently thriving. Orchard Shade has joined that group putting a reduced to non-existent emphasis on wholesaling to more direct-market retail sales, including pick-your-own. I hope it works out for them, certainly the views and scenery at Orchard Shade are beautiful!

Joel English at Jolly Farmer explaining plug-filling process
and quality control to Jon
Hoey Jacob at Jolly Farmer orchard surveying apple crop with Jon
The view from Orchard Shade Farms

Finally, the New Brunswick Apple Growers Annual General Meeting at the Riverside Resort/Mactaquac Inn in the morning of Wednesday, August 16, followed by a tour of Everett Family Orchard, Hoyt's Orchard (with a mid-afternoon beer break of course!), and commencing at River View Orchards with a most excellent BBQ meal. I was asked to give an overview of my experience visiting New Brunswick apple growers to the approximate 45 attendees, and here are the talking points I came up with:
  • Rootstocks - B.9 and M.9 both seem to be performing well, M.9 looks like it has more push, however, B.9, as long as you grow it strongly for 2-3 years, is very good. G.202 and 935 seem to be performing well. Beware the virus sensitivity issue with G.935 and red Honeycrisp strains (and Pazazz). B.118 consider for free standing plantings? Geneva Apple Rootstock Comparison Chart.
  • Varieties - Honeycrisp is the gold standard. Most people wish they could grow Honeycrisp like you do. Just push the trees early, then stand back and enjoy. Watch nitrogen management in bearing years, and push fruit off young trees into direct market. Cortland still has some traction, Ambrosia, Evangeline, TBD. Pazazz?
  • Support systems - lucky to have a guy like Andrew Lovell who knows what they are doing, so it's turn key? But is it? I saw too many instances of not getting newly planted trees ASAP. Very important to do this!
  • Diseases and insects - codling moth an issue. Scab always an issue. Potato leafhopper in young plantings. Canker diseases? What about using more Decision Support Systems? RIMpro, NEWA, SkyBit? Avoid M.9 because fire blight will sooner or later catch up with you? Leaf curling midge, rust mites, mildew...
  • Training and pruning - having Mario here was one of the best things you could do, I see very few problems. Watch the leader in young plantings, argument about stripping vs. pinching? Also, don’t wait to get newly planted trees supported, attached to wires, conduit, bamboo, whatever. Even temporarily if necessary. U-hooks first choice for securing trees to wires IMHO.
  • Opportunities - Apple Growers of New Brunswick, Provincial support/Garth Nickerson, availability of land
  • Obstacles - infrastructure, storage, packing; alliances or go at your own? cold winters
  • Remember: Time is the enemy, Money matters, Performance counts
  • You have to spend money to make money (you can’t save your way to prosperity)
  • Forks belong on your dinner table not in your orchard (this relates to pruning)
  • Further information
  • Get out there and travel around, that is how I’ve learned at least half of what I know about growing apples, and arguably the most important part which is good horticultural practices, those will get you a long ways, pest management is important but secondary…
Thanks again to all the New Brunswick Apple Growers for the hospitality and working vacation. I hope you learned something useful from me as I did from all of you. Have a great harvest in the many years to come and I look forward to returning some day to see my friends. JC