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Hardy Fruit Trees in the Ottawa Valley


Fruit trees are generally a long term agricultural investment, so pick your site well, and pick your tree even more carefully.

When I first moved to this area in 1969, there were apple, and some plum,

orchards on every farm, even on most abandoned farms. The wide selection of varieties was awesome and all were hardy enough to endure the coldest weather this area could dish out. Sadly, most of these orchards have succumbed to neglect, overgrowth of the forest, and clearing of the land for other crops. Still, they amply prove that this area can provide good habitat for hardy fruit trees.


The first criterion one needs to consider when choosing a tree to plant is whether it is sufficiently hardy to thrive in its intended location, not just survive. A handy reference is the Plant Hardiness Zone map of Agriculture Canada. The Arctic is Zone 0, while Windsor's banana belt is Zone 7a. Renfrew town is about 4b, Pembroke town is Zone 4a, Perth and Ottawa are in Zone 5, and western Renfrew County is Zone 3b or even 3a. Each site will also be influenced by whether it faces south or north, whether it is exposed to strong winds, is close to a stabilizing large body of water, and whether it is close to a building or is at the bottom or top of a hill. Planting a tree that's not fully hardy to your location is playing the "horticultural lottery."

Thankfully most nurseries and tree merchants do label their trees with "hardy to Zone X," so intelligent choices can be made before buying a tree. There are also numerous publications by Agriculture Canada and OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), plus books by orchardists, which describe not only the hardiness zones for many varieties, but also the other taste, color and size qualities. It's worth keeping in mind, even while considering the climate changes we're enduring, that there have been "Test Winters" (1904, 1917, 1934 and 1981) which were especially cold, and so proved which varieties really will survive in an area. We lost several great trees with delicious fruit in 1981, the same year that 30 per cent of all commercial apple trees in Quebec died. Bartlett pears also proved they could not be a guaranteed survivor in the Upper Ottawa Valley.

Pear trees and others

Thankfully, there are many excellent hardy varieties of apple, pear, cherry and plum that have been developed by orchardists in Canada and the northern USA over the past many years. Challenged by adversity, they rose to it and came through with flying colours of good fruit for most every locale. I have sought out the research of the Prairie orchardists and found many varieties that are very happy in Zone 3a, while taking a chance in the horticultural lottery with a couple from Zone 4. For pear trees, I suggest planting trees with rootstocks of Pyrus Ussurienses (Harbin Pear). These are from a region of Northern China/Siberia which missed the last Ice Age, and thus had a longer time to develop true hardiness. Their genes have been bred into many varieties that are also on the market. They have the benefit as well of being immune to Fire Blight, the scourge of European pears, as well as not attracting many bugs or other diseases.

Planting, watering, fertilizing

When planting, keep these principles in mind: Plant your trees far enough apart so they will not touch each other's branches when they are fully mature (yes, that little tree will spread to 25 feet wide). Plan for good drainage: Dig the hole 2-2.5 feet deep and wide enough to fit
all the roots without bending, put the top soil on the bottom and the sub soil on the top, keep the roots wet until well planted and then water 2-3 gallons when the hole is half filled and another 2-3 gallons when fully planted. Then pack the soil well to eliminate all air pockets. 

After planting, it's best to water with 5 or more gallons 2-3 times a  week minimum for the first growing season. Remember that 90 per cent of the feeder roots are in the top 6 inches of soil. Mulch the "drip line" (outer extent of the branches) well with hay, straw, or rotten old sawdust to help maintain moisture, encourage decomposition right where the feeder roots are, and help keep the weeds and grass down. Do keep this mulch at least a foot away from the trunk so as not to provide rodents a home with "lunch" too nearby.

Put a plastic or hardware cloth wrap around the tree before winter to discourage rodents and rabbits, at least as high as the snow drifts in that particular spot. To deter deer, a fence higher and wider than the baby tree is, secured with three tall stakes, will work, though it may need raising as the tree grows. An electric fence will do the necessary work for larger plantings, and even keep away the bears. (Obviously we're growing tasty good food.) Well-composted manure placed under the mulch before mid-June is the best fertilizer, though foliar feeding before mid-summer, and kelp and ground-up rock mineral soil amendments are also excellent to include under the mulch.

Fall planting

Autumn is often the best time to plant. Most soils are unflooded and more friable. Site preparation then is usually better planned and more leisurely. Dormant plants are less stressed as they slow down for the winter. November with her rains settles in the freshly planted roots for an early start in the spring. After the first killing frost until late October is the best time. Then, water well, until freeze up, and mulch well (putting tree guards on to protect from bark eaters) to protect from frost heaving. (With thanks to

The final frontier

Organic fruit has been called the "Final Frontier of Agriculture," as it is very challenging, especially apples, yet worth it in taste and health safety. It's the way our great-grandparents grew their orchards, though it incorporates many new beneficial techniques. is a great resource to help with this, as is their book The Apple Grower.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is another growing practice that is popular and helps keep down the application of chemicals and their costs. If you are fortunate enough to live on a farm with an old orchard, it is well worth the effort to regenerate it. First cut all underbrush and shading trees within 50 feet, then cut out the dead wood. Follow up by clearing up the middle so you can climb the tree and the sun and air movement can penetrate it. Using lots of good hay as mulch has been proven in studies to be enough good
fertilizer and provides enough habitat restoration to bring the trees back to health and good productivity.

It can take a new tree 5 to 10 years to come into production, depending on whether it is semi-dwarf or standard. A well-maintained standard tree can produce good fruit for about 100 years. Hardy fruit trees provide a great return on investment.

Robbie Anderman is a member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit charitable organization based in the Ottawa Valley.

In this issue..

Energy East -- A Present Danger
A project to pipe massive amounts of bitumen-based oil from Alberta to Canada's east coast is drawing opposition from communities along its proposed route.
TransCanada Pipeline's Energy East project is being promoted as a means of moving oil from Alberta's tar sands to ports in Quebec and New Brunswick, primarily for export overseas. TransCanada claims this project will expand oil refineries and related industry and create jobs. Energy East would be larger than either the Trans-Mountain, Northern Gateway or the controversial Keystone XL projects.
The issue motivated a discussion, "Energy East: Our Risk - Their Reward," hosted recently in Ottawa by the Council of Canadians and Ecology Ottawa. The meeting was one of a series of forums organized by the Council with local concerned groups in towns along the possible pipeline.
The evening featured a panel composed of Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, and Graham Saul of Ecology Ottawa.
Eriel Deranger stated that Treaty number 8, an agreement signed by (among other First Nations) the Chipewyan people and the Crown in 1899, guarantees its First Nations signatories hunting, fishing, trapping, and cultural preservation rights. These rights, which were later reinforced by the Canadian Constitution and Bill of Rights, are now threatened by the oil sands development in the Athabasca region.
Tar sands, she said, are destroying local ecology and poisoning First Nations peoples. Many Chipewyan have no running water or are subject to years-long boiling water advisories. They suffer increased cancer rates.
Water pollution 
The Tar sands reportedly use four barrels of water for every barrel of oil. Tailings ponds are suspected of leaking millions of litres of toxins into the McKenzie and Athabasca Rivers daily. The mining has caused acres of forest to be cleared, disrupting animal habitats and migratory patterns. Tests on local wildlife indicate probable contamination and a risk to the First Nations practice of sustainable hunting.
Deranger stated that the Harper government threatens democracy and environmental protection. She cites Bill C-45 (2012), which deregulates the management--and protection--of lakes and waterways, as an example. Critical habitats are now vulnerable.
The ACFN, she said is suing Shell Oil Canada for failure to honour agreements with the Chipewyan First Nation regarding resource exploitation on their land. Furthermore, the ACFN is legally protesting the Federal government's approval (with stipulations) of Shell's proposed Jackpine mine project to expand tar sands production.
"Canada has become the playground for oil companies. " Deranger commented. "Aboriginals' traditional territory is being sold."
Maude Barlow explained that TransCanada's use of Benzene (an organic chemical compound) to facilitate the flow of piped bitumen makes spillage extremely toxic. In such an event, the oil would sink into--not float on--water and make the clean-up "a nightmare." Some of the pipes TransCanada uses are old and ill-equipped to handle pressure.
Energy East, she said, will cross 90 waterways systems and provide "a new threat to the Great Lakes, which are already in danger." Barlow explained that U.S. authorities allow fracking wastewater to cross the Great Lakes, with spillage a constant possibility.
The global water supply, Barlow said, is itself threatened.
"The planet," she said, "is running out of water. "
Water is being pumped out faster than it can be (naturally) replaced. The Great Lakes are being drained of so much water that they might be depleted in 80 years. Half of China's rivers have disappeared since 1990. The dumping of waste water into oceans adds further damage.
"We have a responsibility not to destroy this water," she stated. "This is part of a larger struggle."
Local impacts
Part of the Energy East pipeline will cross the Rideau River just south of Ottawa, along with the Oxford aquifer, and a groundwater recharge area [a pumping station is planned in Stittsville]. A spill could thus close down Ottawa's water supply.
Barlow advocated building a strong movement against Energy East. She recommended that citizens tweet and otherwise contact representatives such as Jim Watson to have a risk assessment done regarding an oil pipeline in the Ottawa area.
Graham Saul stated that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently found that, while global warming will increase by 3 ¼ to 4 ¼ if coal and gas are continually burnt for energy, mitigating this is still possible. The IPCC says that alternative energies do not, despite what their critics say, really damage economies.
Saul explained that while Norway and Germany are increasingly using energies such as solar power, Canada does the opposite. The Harper government has reduced federal energy programs while promoting "radical, reckless, ultimately unethical projects such as the tar sands."
Saul said that Kitimat, BC recently held a non-binding plebiscite on the construction of a pipeline and an oil tanker terminal for Enbridge's Northern Gateway project. Enbridge claimed that Northern Gateway would create 180 jobs locally. Nonetheless, 60 per cent of citizens rejected the project. This, Saul said, proves the power of grassroots opposition. (The plebiscite motivated a BC environmental group, Dogwood Initiative, to campaign to have Northern Gateway subject to a popular provincial referendum). He said that communities in New Brunswick and Quebec affected by Energy East are mobilizing against it.
Saul advised that citizens in the National Capital Region lobby the Ontario Energy Board and the federal government regarding the risks associated with Energy East. People should express their concerns to candidates in the upcoming Ontario provincial election.
"We have to stand up and say we do not want this pipeline," he stated. "The time to organize is now."
David Mills writes on environmental and social justice issues.

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