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Hardy Fruit Trees in the Ottawa Valley

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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 www.Goldenboughtrees.ca)

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. www.groworganicapples.com 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..

A Retrospective 50-Year Memory Tour of Western National Parks and Other Sites 1964 and 2014
by Paul and Marilyn Koch
 
In 1964, Paul and Marilyn Koch took a 10-week camping trip through National Parks and other locations in both Canada & the USA. The trip covered three Canadian Provinces and 33 US States. 
 
In September 2014, armed with photographs from the original trip, they took a retrospective journey in the reverse direction through the Western portion of the trip with the intent of photographing a number of locations and sites as closely as possible to the original photos. This document shows the comparative results. Month of the year--July vs. September--weather, and time of day, all had an impact on many of the pictures but overall with a few exceptions things looked much the same. 
 

Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields 

The shocking but not surprising change in the Athabasca Glacier was by far the largest and most meaningful change in natural systems seen on the trip. The first two pictures (shown here), taken from approximately the same location, exaggerate somewhat the distance by which the toe of the glacier has receded, since the toe is now obscured by the large gravel hill that has been exposed. The toe of the glacier in 1964 was at the edge of the lake to the right, close to where a parking lot for glacier access is now located. 
Athabasca Glacier as seen in 1964.
 
Athabasca Glacier as seen in 2014. Photos courtesy Paul and Marilyn Koch.
 
The following pictures (not shown) give a more detailed view of the glacier's loss. The bridge in the first picture is at the front of the parking lot as you start to hike to the glacier. About half way up the hill was a marker showing where the toe of the glacier was in 1982. 
 
In the second picture taken at the top of the hill, you can see that it is still a significant way to the glacier, which is partially hidden--about as far again as the distance back to the parking lot. The third picture shows the current toe of the glacier to the left and the gravel hill that partially hides the glacier to the right. 
 
Wikipedia indicates that the Athabasca Glacier has retreated approximately 1.5 kilometres in the last century and the rate of retreat has accelerated since 1995. 
The big question remains: How much of that change is due to the burning of fossil fuels and how much simply to natural causes? No one really knows, but it does speak to the need to cut our fossil fuel-based energy consumption in every way possible.
   
[PERC would like to extend a sincere "thank you" to Paul Koch for permission to publish this excerpt of his Memory Tour. This excerpt has been edited for length.] 

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The PERC thanks the above organizations for their support.

Thank you to Sustainable Eastern Ontario, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for sponsoring the Winter 2015-2016 edition of the PEN.

 

Viewpoints expressed should not be taken to represent the opinions of the Ottawa Peace and Environment Resource Centre, the Peace and Environment News, or our supporters. The PEN does not recommend, approve or endorse any of the advertisers, products or services printed in the PEN or referred to on the PERC website. Health-related information printed in the PEN or online is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified and licensed health care provider. The PERC and PEN are not responsible for the content on any external website links.