Canada – Fruit Farming

While it is true that fruit can be grown successfully in a great many parts of Canada, practically nothing is done in the way of fruit farming in either of the prairie provinces. The industry is confined mainly to Nova Scota, Ontario, New Brunswick, and British Columbia. The fruit gardens of Canada at present are mainly con-fined to the Annapolis valley, in Nova Scotia, which extends along the Bay of Fundy from Windsor to Digby, the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, and certain portions of British Columbia. The situation of the Annapolis valley is ideal for fruit-growing, since it is separated from the Bay by a range of mountains called the North Mountains, and protected from the east winds by another range known as the South Mountains, and the soil, generally speaking, is admirably adapted to the needs of the fruit-grower. The farms, as compared with those of the prairie provinces, are comparatively small, and are generally owned by the occupiers. They extend from twenty to 120 acres in area, and generally are composed of hay land in the valley, orchards round about the holdings, and perhaps a certain amount of grazing and woodland on the lower slopes of the hills.

They would be ideal for a system of mixed farming, particularly dairying and fruit growing, but the fruit-growing has proved so profitable and so much better than dairying that many farmers have given up the latter to devote themselves entirely to fruit. There are some-thing like 50,000 acres of orchards in the valley, and a great variety of fruit is grown. Apples, blackberries, cherries, currants, gooseberries, pears, plums, rasp-berries, and strawberries are all to be found, but first in favour with the farmer comes the apple.

While one cannot accept unreservedly the extravagant claims sometimes made for the Canadian apple, it is certain that the very highest quality can be grown, and that al-though fruit trees are somewhat slow in coming to maturity they remain in full bearing for many more years than in less suitable climates. About forty apple trees are planted to the acre, and they do not begin to bear until they are from four to five years old.

The space between the trees is utilised for other crops, such as corn, potatoes, roots, or occasionally small fruit. When the trees cover the greater part of the ground the regular crops are not planted, and their place is taken by cover crops sown in July, at the time when the fruit trees cease to grow. The ground is sown with buckwheat, clover, or some smaller crop, which has the twofold advantage of absorbing the plant-food and so stopping the growth of the trees, whilst hastening the ripening of the fruit. In the winter it holds the snow and so protects the roots from the frost, and in the following spring it is ploughed up and gives warmth and nitrogen to the soil. In Canada, as in England, the farmer has innumerable pests to fight against, and the spraying of fruit trees is almost universal. A mixture of copper sulphate, quicklime, and Paris green is put on three times a year, and if done conscientiously it is generally successful in protecting the trees.

The farmer picks his own fruit, and packs and grades it himself before sending it to an agent for sale on commission, or else more frequently he sells his fruit to buyers who grade and pack it at their own warehouses. In some districts the co-operative movement has taken root, and fruit is graded and packed by the cooperative store. It is not easy to arrive at an estimate of the profits to be derived from fruit growing, but it may be said that in a favourable year the average orchard, well looked after, should yield 100 barrels (each containing 150 lbs.) per acre per year. Taking two dollars as the average price per barrel this would give a return of something like £40 gross per acre.

A good many of the younger men are leaving the eastern fruit-growing provinces for the alluring romance of the West. Fortunes, it is true, come more easily to the pioneer, and the West of Canada is undoubtedly the place to which the ambitious man turns his eyes. At the same time, the Annapolis valley promises a good living and comparatively settled conditions of life to the immigrant, and it is possible that in a few years’ time there will be a backwash of settlers from the West to this peaceful Maritime province.

In Ontario there is more fruit culture than in any other province of the Dominion.

For the most part the fruit growing district is to be found in the Southern and Western parts of Ontario. Hardy fruit, such as apples, sour cherries, and plums, are grown on the east of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, on the north and south shores of Lake Ontario, and the northern shore of Lake Erie. Grapes, sweet cherries, pears, peaches, and other soft fruits are grown south and west of Toronto, on the south of Georgian Bay and the east of Lake Huron.

On the Niagara Peninsula, on the south shore of Lake Ontario, is a strip of land some forty miles long and varying from one to five miles broad, bounded on one side by a range of hills, and on the south by Lake Ontario. Climate tempered in this fashion by the hills and the waters of the lake is reputed to be the best in the province. At one time apples were grown at this particular part, but the warm climate was found to produce apples that would not keep for more than two or three weeks, and grape vines were consequently substituted for apple trees. Grape vines begin to bear when about three years old, and in full bearing a good crop would be about four tons to the acre. Both edible and wine making grapes, are grown, but so far the grower does not seem to have discovered a vine which will give the bouquet of the continental grape.

A strip of sandy loam in the peninsula is devoted almost entirely to the production of peaches. The trees are planted about twenty feet apart, and a very heavy outlay is incurred for cultivation until the end of the fifth or sixth year, when the orchard comes into full bearing. In a favourable season one might say that the gross return per acre would be something like 200 dollars, but quite half of this would have to be spent on cultivation. Any immigrant who imagines that he can take up his 160 acres of free grant land in this favoured spot would find himself sadly mistaken.

Unplanted land varies from 200 dollars to 300 dollar’s an acre. Land planted with peach trees brings 500 dollars an acre, and in the best positions it might even run up to 1,200 dollars or more an acre.

This peninsula is most attractive to the man of means who is seeking a profitable living combined with a comfortable civilisation. The houses are large and beautiful, and the gardens well cared for : whilst the electric railway keeps the residents in close touch with the town of Hamilton.

It is less than a quarter of a century since the first fruit was sent out from British Columbia, and the following table shows the rapid advance made in fruit production.

1891 6,437 acres 1901 7,430 „ 1905 22,000 „ 1910 100,000 „

The two great fruit districts are the Kootenay district and the Okanagan valley. The pioneer of fruit-growing in the Kootenay district was a Mr. Johnstone, a Scotch-man, who settled in Nelson some years ago. Mining was at that time in a somewhat parlous state, and Mr. John-stone discovered in a forest near his house an orchard of fruit trees which had been planted many years before by a ranch settler and had been completely forgotten. Mr. Johnstone immediately turned his mind to the problems of fruit culture, and has done excellent work as propagandist and practical farmer for the fruit-growing industry. As a rule the holdings are small, ranging from a few acres, and rarely exceeding sixty acres. The soil is very favour-able, and the whole industry depends upon the extraordinarily fine climate of British Columbia which rarely fails the fruit farmer except in an occasionally dry season. The summer temperature never exceeds ninety-four degrees at Nelson, and for years no lower temperature has been known than six degrees below zero. In some places the rainfall is deficient and irrigation becomes necessary. In West Kootenay the rainfall is about nineteen inches, but there is a heavy snowfall, so that the annual precipitation is twenty-seven inches. Any kind of fruit suited to a temperate climate can be grown, but at present, owing to the fact that transport is not sufficiently organised, only the hardier sorts are sent to the market.

The British market and the Australian market are both supplied, and it is probable that with the introduction of closer relations with Australia a large proportion of the fruit at present sent to Great Britain will be diverted to the Antipodes. One of the curiosities of market demands is shown in the variation between the Australian and the English market. The Australian demands a much smaller apple than the British buyer, and with a view to pleasing him the Kootenay fruit-grower, when growing for the Australian market, never thins out his fruit. The result is that a much heavier crop of smaller apples is grown, and some of these unthinned trees, at the time of ripening are marvellous examples of productiveness. In the Okanagan valley the climate is equally delightful but not quite so moist, eleven inches a year being the average rainfall. This necessitates irrigation.

Lord Aberdeen has a celebrated ranch at Coldstream, about five miles from Vernon, comprising 13,000 acres. He bought it in 1891 as a cattle ranch, and transformed it into the finest fruit farm in British Columbia. In 1906 the ranch was turned into a limited company, and the orchard land now extends to about 350 acres, of which 160 acres are in full bearing. This company, in addition to fruit farming, has a colonisation branch, which sells to English, Scotch, and Canadian settlers small holdings of land at a price of about 200 dollars, including the right to water, for which besides he has to pay extra at a rate of about three dollars an acre.

The fruit is packed for market in two styles. In Eastern Canada the custom is to pack in barrels, the size of which is regulated by the Inspection Sale Act, and the fruit is graded according to a well-known scale which tells the buyer at once the size and quality of the apple he is buying. The system of packing fruit in barrels, however, has its obvious disadvantages, and the British Columbian system of fruit boxes, each containing a single layer of fruit, gets the fruit to market in a much better condition.

Since the appearance of the fruit has a good deal to do with its marketable properties the packer is naturally a highly-skilled man, who can decide with lightning rapidity the class to which the fruit belongs. The apples are packed separately, the small ones being placed towards the ends and the larger ones near the middle, so that the unpractised eye, deceived by the perspective, does not detect the variation in size. Inferior fruit, that is to say, fruit which while perfectly sound, has no great market value, is used for canning and pre-serving. Sometimes it is done in the homes of the farmer, but mainly the trade is in the hands of canning factories. Doubtless as time goes on the canning industry will become more extensive, but at present the farmer’s desire is to extend the fresh fruit business as far as possible, and only to use canning for inferior fruit. Profiting by the example of Belgium and Denmark the fruit farmer of Canada has already discovered the value of co-operation, and it is probable that in years to come co-operation will be a very large feature of the fruit-growing business.