Slow start to the sea­son

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Front Page - BY ADAM RANDELL, KYLE GREEN­HAM, AND JOR­DAN MALONEY Adam.randell@gan­der­bea­ Jor­dan.maloney@ad­ver­tis­

How does the un­sea­sonal weather af­fect grow­ers?

Af­ter wild June weather, which saw snow on the ground in many parts of cen­tral last week, we wanted to know how the wacky weather has been af­fect­ing New­found­land crops this grow­ing sea­son, and any po­ten­tial tips to help pro­duce stave off the cold.

‘Mother Na­ture still rules all’

CAMPBELLTON, N.L. – The chaotic and pre­dictably un­pre­dictable weather of New­found­land is some­thing Philip Thorn­ley has learned to tackle through his 40 years of work.

Campbellton Berry Farm, Thorn­ley’s fam­ily busi­ness known for its plen­ti­ful straw­berry fields, pet­ting zoo, ap­ple trees and other berry blos­soms, has ex­pe­ri­enced many dif­fi­cult sum­mers weath­er­wise.

But Thorn­ley says the need to adapt to the chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly in this province, is just the na­ture of the game as a gar­dener and farmer.

“With farm­ing we’re very de­pen­dent on the en­vi­ron­ment – Mother Na­ture still rules all,” said Thorn­ley. “We just got to know what those rules are and how to work within them.”

Cen­tral New­found­land was hit with a wet and snowy spring this year, with the now in­fa­mous 30 cm of snow brought to­wards the end of May and the odd snow­fall con­tin­u­ing through­out June.

The big­gest detri­ment to Thorn­ley’s en­ter­prise has been the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures that have con­tin­ued well through the spring.

“Snow is not the worst thing, the worst is th­ese hard frosts which can do so much dam­age,” he said. “It dam­ages and af­fects sen­si­tive blos­soms like plums, cher­ries. Straw­ber­ries are es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to frost.

“This year I’ve seen our black­cur­rants are curled and hit. I’ve never seen that be­fore, usu­ally black­cur­rants are pretty tough.”

Thorn­ley has lost some of his crops to frost al­ready this year, and for a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion like his, it also means a loss to his in­come.

The main way the farm deals with frost is ir­ri­ga­tion, spray­ing and coat­ing the whole field with wa­ter to pro­tect it from frost.

“When you look at it in the morn­ing there’s a whole two inch pro­tec­tive layer of ice,” Thorn­ley ex­plained. “When it melts af­ter a few hours the blos­soms un­der­neath are okay. But ir­ri­ga­tion only works on cool nights, if the ground tem­per­a­ture goes be­low -4 it won’t work.

“You’re mak­ing a judge­ment all the time of what it’s go­ing to cost me to pro­tect this and what I am go­ing to gain from pro­tect­ing it.”

Tough sum­mers have been in­creas­ingly com­mon in re­cent years. Thorn­ley says it was com­mon to have their straw­berry fields open to the public by July 1 but in re­cent sum­mers they usu­ally waited un­til July 15. He ex­pects they will have to do the same this year.

Still, tough sum­mers have of­ten also come with a bit of an eas­ier fall sea­son.

“Some­times in th­ese kinds of years we get a good fall and we can ex­tend our sea­son a bit and gain with a later sea­son what we lost from the be­gin­ning of it,” Thorn­ley said. “This is go­ing to be one of the poorer years for straw­ber­ries I would think but we’ll see what hap- pens.”

Mit­i­gat­ing the “trau­matic event”

GAN­DER, N.L. – When it comes to crop preser­va­tion, Ja­son Bull is adamant about pay­ing at­ten­tion to weather pat­terns.

Over the last 10 years, the East­port Or­gan­ics farmer has been study­ing the province’s weather, ob­serv­ing the highs and lows, and study­ing global cli­mate re­al­i­ties.

As a re­sult, Bull usu­ally waits un­til a “trau­matic event” passes late in June, be­fore he starts plant­ing out­side.

“We get this warm start, fol­lowed by a re­ally cool, cold, frost event early in the sum­mer, then we get blasted with this heat wave that comes on,” he said. “That’s very dif­fi­cult for plants to ad­just to.”

So he holds off on plant­ing his more cold sen­si­tive items out­side.

“I plan for a later plant, hold­ing things in green­houses, and I plan on get­ting more green­houses in the fu­ture to mit­i­gate those up and downs,” said Bull.

He feels the use of green­house grow­ing un­til sum­mer con­di­tions sta­bi­lize will sus­tain the great­est yield for his crops.

The East­port farmer rec­om­mends the use of green­house tents, cater­pil­lar tun­nels or row tun­nels to all grow­ers.

One tech­nique Bull has im­ple­mented in his green­houses is the heat­ing of soil through buried cables.

The style of heat­ing ca­ble he uses can be found in hard­ware stores, for de-ic­ing roofs and gut­ters, and it is reg­u­lated with a sep­a­rately pur­chased ther­mo­stat.

“The cables keep the roots from freez­ing, which is what you’re look­ing for,” he said. “When the roots freeze the plant can’t take the wa­ter up and that’s what gen­er­ally kills the plant, des­ic­ca­tion.”

Chris Oram, Mark’s Mar­ket

GRAND FALLS-WIND­SOR, N.L. - Cen­tral New­found­land has had un­usual weather to say the least, and it may be af­fect­ing lo­cal grow­ing op­er­a­tions.

“It’s just cold and late get­ting go­ing,” said Chris Oram, man­ager of Mark’s Mar­ket lo­cated near Grand Falls-Wind­sor. “We haven’t had any dam­ages to any of the crops there.”

While his par­ents are the own­ers, Oram, his wife, and his mother and fa­ther run the farm to­gether. Mark’s Mar­ket is a mixed veg­etable op­er­a­tion that grows, as Oram de­scribes, every­thing that can pos­si­bly be grown in New­found­land.

“I know some of the other farms around in the area are a nice bit be­hind be­cause of the weather,” he said. “But we man­aged to work through it, we were wear­ing snow suits and oil clothes ev­ery day, us and the work­ers to try and get it all in and on time.”

Oram said un­sea­sonal weather will push back the open­ing of the farm’s straw­berry u-pick by roughly a week.

“2011 I came back and I’ve been on the farm ever since,” he said. “This def­i­nitely has been the cold­est, weird­est spring. It’s been wet too, we’ve had a lot of rain. Cold and rain, it’s hard to get your field work done too.”

Oram said if the next two months see stan­dard sum­mer weather, none of the reg­u­lar crops will be late.

“Be­cause it’s re­ally just plant­ing and start­ing to grow yet,” he said. “The big­gest tell all will be the next two months.”

Oram said it was cold and wet the en­tire time crops were be­ing planted. He said their cab­bage, which was planted on June 1, saw two sig­nif­i­cant snow­falls.

“It hasn’t looked back, it’s grow­ing right through it,” he said.

Oram was more wor­ried about the frost than he was the snow.

“The frost will kill things,” he said. “The snow kind of pro­vided more of a blan­ket for it. The cold weather never pen­e­trated the crops the same.”

Oram said the farm is lucky to have an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem that helps pro­tect against the frost, and he said with­out it he’s un­sure if the crops would be in such a good state.

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