by THEAN PHEH
November 28, 2001
I live in Edmonton which has a microclimate in Zone 3. I also have contacts with other growers in Zone3 and 2 in Central Alberta.
The first killing frost of 2000 arrived late, giving the plants about two extra weeks to prepare for the winter. However, soil moisture was extremely low. In fact, Alberta had the driest October to June on record. Very little snow fell; the first did not come till the last day of the year. When spring finally came, there was little rain. It was so dry that even dandelion leaves were rolled up by mid-morning. The dry soil cracked wide open. In winter this allowed frost to penetrate deep into the ground. We expected the worst and our fear got the better of us when hardy native trees and shrubs like birch, alder, junipers, dogwood, and beaked hazelnut started dying.
When spring finally arrived, much to our delight, very few fruits were affected. Raspberries were a complete disaster; every single cane died to the ground except for Red Bounty and Red Mammoth. These two died to about 3 feet from the ground and managed to produce some berries. In Central Alberta, (where I am) this growing season was longer than usual and that allowed us to pick a few berries from primo-cane types just before the first killing frost.
In spite the fact that the strawberry patch was covered with 4 inches of straw, we suffered very heavy winter kill. Some growers lost entire plantings. The consolation was that there were few insect pests attacking the berries of those that managed to survive.
Other soft fruits came through the winter unscratched. Bumper crops of saskatoons, currants (black, red, white and Albol), gooseberries, grapes, high bush cranberries, chokecherries, pincherries, Mongolian cherries and Nanking cherries were harvested. Sour cherry was a mixed bag. In some locations, the trees were loaded while in others, winter kill was experienced and yield was low. Sea Buckthorn, silver buffaloberry, Korean bush cherry, cherry princepia and black chokeberry bushes were also heavily loaded. Although edible, these berries are seldom picked.
Tree fruits caught all of us by surprise. This was one of the very few years where absolutely no winter damage was noted. Apples, pears, plums and apricots came through with terminal buds alive. The trees were excessively covered with flowers. Although plastered with flowers, not much apricot was harvested. The cold spring took down most of the developing fruitlets. In Central Alberta, on average we get an apricot crop every five years. Plums have the annual fruit set problem probably due to pollination problems. In areas where fruit set had traditionally not been a problem, the trees were loaded. Those growers who have pollination problems picked very few plums. We often joke about apricot and plum trees been nothing more than lovely ornamental materials. Every apple and pear tree was excessively loaded. Growers who thinned out their crop had beautiful big apples while those who left everything to Mother Nature ended up with permanently hanging branches and miserable small apples.
In a nut shell, the 2001 fruit season was a resounding success in terms of fruit production. Only the July precipitation was slightly above the thirty year average. Every month was below normal. Whether this low precipitation coupled with heavy crops will have any affect on this year’s winter survival and next year’s production, only time will tell.