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Winter prep for Ont.’s specialty crops

Winter prep for Ont.’s specialty crops

Producers of apples and wine grapes in Ontario are preparing their orchards and vineyards for the long winter 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Growers raising more niche-market crops have different tasks to think about as we approach the end of fall.

For example, at Brantwood Farms in Brant County, you’ll find apple orchards along with “fruits and vegetables with a retail market and ag entertainment,” Tom Pate, the farm owner, told Farms.com. The operation’s peak season is filled with visitors for pick-your-own berries and apples, school tours, and fall festival weekends, he explained.

As fall settles in, he “makes sure the grass is short (around apple trees) so you don’t have mice hibernating in your orchard,” he said. Other producers may use mouse bait, but Pate said they don’t need to at Brantwood Farms. Nor do they spray leaves with nitrogen to help the leaves decay sooner to prevent scab in the spring, although other apple producers find the practice helpful, he explained.

“We’re in good shape for apples,” Pate said. “A big part of my focus, right through to Christmas, would be strawberries. Put straw in strawberries, put herbicide on, and I’m putting row covers on for winter protection.”

After that, it’s right back to orchard work.

“Come January, if the weather is nice, I’ll be out pruning my (apple) trees,” Pate said.

Staff at vineyards have a long fall checklist too.

With a sensitive crop, like wine grapes, a lot of time in the fall is spent ensuring the vines are protected over the winter.

“We harvested in the beginning of October, and then started to lay the vines down. So we take a few canes out of the canopy and tie them to a low wire,” Tim Kuepfer, proprietor and winemaker at Broken Stone Winery in Prince Edward County, told Farms.com.

“We have to protect our vines against extreme cold,” he explained. “In our vineyard, we either bury vines or we use cloth row covers to protect them.”

To bury the vines, Kuepfer uses a moldboard plow to make a ridge, and for the cloth “we prune off all the extra stuff. (Then) we drape the cloth overtop, and that keeps it warm enough, like a little tent,” he said.

The work is labour intensive and much of it happens after seasonal work contracts end. After a busy closing season, growers prioritize business planning and family time over the winter.

“For me, the main thing is trying to sell the wine that I’ve made. There’s planning for next year, and creating marketing materials,” Keupfer said.

“During harvest and tie down, it’s really a lot of pressure to work a lot of hours. So we try to swing the pendulum the other way and I spend a lot of time with my wife and kids.”

In late winter and early spring, production ramps right back up for these growers.

“I usually get the greenhouse going on March 1,” Pate said. Then, it’s off into a busy season of planting transplants, maintaining orchards, and welcoming the public back to Brantwood Farms.

Keupfer and his crew also hit the ground running at the start of the new season.

“My crew is generally all back by May 1 and we’ll do the pruning and tying the vines back up to the trellis,” Keupfer said.

Karl Papst\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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