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Billtown horticulturalist named to Hall of Fame

BILLTOWN, N.S. — Gilbert Allen set out to grow the best berries because he saw a need.
The retired farmer and agricultural researcher is linked to some pioneering work in the world of Nova Scotian horticulture.
He’s been credited with cultivating stronger certified strawberry plants and raspberry canes that are renowned across Canada, and even in parts of the United States.
And the industry has taken notice.
Allen was recently inducted into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame.
It all started with a few plants from the research station in Kentville.
“We grew those in a screen house and produced plants to grow our foundation stock from,” Allen said. “That was multiplication, really. And then, when we had those plants, we planted our field on the third year.”
The plants, sold as certified stock, have set the standard for quality. They are grown in nurseries throughout Canada and the northeastern region of the United States.
This, in turn, led to the export of millions of bareroot and plugged plants.
There are many things that have to be kept track of when growing berries, from cropping out any off-type plants to the planning and implementation of a protection program to prevent disease and insects – and that protection plan doesn’t include herbicide.
“We have to keep the fields clean, and we don’t use herbicides to kill weeds in plant production,” Allen said. “Using herbicide slows the production on your runners where your plants develop, and it has a tendency to weaken the daughter plants.”
Allen said the work of growing stocks is quite challenging.
It’s a three-year process to prepare nursery stock, starting in a screen house, eventually moving out to the foundation and nursery field.
Allen looked back fondly on embracing the various challenges, such as the need to irrigate plants every year except one.
“I was a worker, myself, and raring to go in the morning and sometimes half the night.”
Growing the healthiest, best quality stock for berry growers was not the only thing that kept Allen busy during his working years. He’s undertaken a number of agricultural endeavours throughout his career.
His passion for growing berries was informed by his first career as a research assistant for Agriculture Canada. He spent seven years, starting in 1956, doing crop research at project stations throughout western Nova Scotia.
He purchased a farm in Kentville with his wife Dorothy in 1959, and the couple bought their current home and farm in Billtown in 1964. Gilbert eventually left his job with Agriculture Canada to turn his attention to raising cattle and growing apples at G.W. Allen nursery.
His expertise in field studies in crop research has informed his efforts to create the healthiest berries possible.
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