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Black Knot Disease

April 30, 2019 | Orchard | No Comments

black knot disease in an infected chokecherry branch.

We have a lot of chokecherries here on our acreage, which means we have a lot of Black Knot Disease. It looks an awful lot like a big chunk of dried up dog poop wrapped around the tree branches – pretty gross! Black knot is a fungal infection (Apiosporina morbosa ) that is endemic in prairie Canada, and it is particularly common in my region.

a branch with black knot disease, which looks like dog poop wrapped around the branch

The Government of Alberta has published an article with a handy list of affected trees – black knot targets trees and bushes in the Prunus species. Besides chokecherries, the list includes Nanking cherries, apricots, sour cherries, and plums. While some cultivars of fruit trees are bred for black knot resistance, it is best to remove it any time you see it anywhere on your property.

There are not a lot of ways to deal with black knot, except for pruning. You will need to prune well back from the infected lump – at least 6 inches, though more is better. Dispose of the infected branches by burning them or removing them from the property immediately – the fungus can continue to grow and spread spores for months, even on dead branches. Once you are done, disinfect your pruning shears with a solution of 10% bleach in water, to prevent spreading the disease to other trees the next time you do any pruning.

Now is a great time to tackle pruning out black knot in your affected trees, since the affected trees and branches are much easier to see before the trees leaf out; the recommendation is to do it as early in the spring as possible, which, for us, is whenever the snow melts enough for us to be able to get to the affected trees. We have acres of scrubby chokecherry and caragana brush, so obviously we’re never going to get rid of all of it here, but I like to cut back affected trees that are close to our current orchard areas, since black knot can affect so many of the types of fruit we have planted here.

a close up photo of a black knot infection

While it may be possible to save a tree that has become infected with black knot, it hits me as a losing battle. If you have infected trees, there is obviously a source sonewhere nearby, and it is likely that your susceptible tree will get re-infected at some point. Better to save on heartache, cut down the infected tree, and plant something that isn’t susceptible.

Of course, with our place being surrounded by scrubby brush full of infested chokecherries, I expect we’ll be battling black knot disease, but we try to keep our prunus fruit trees away from the most infected areas, and we remove black knot wherever we see it in the wild chokecherries. So far, it hasn’t been a huge issue, but it certainly has the potential to become a problem for us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep it out of our plums and cherries!

a chokecherry tree branch with a black knot fungal infection

By Jess

Where to Order Fruit Trees in Canada

April 8, 2019 | Orchard | 2 Comments

A newly planted bare root fruit tree that has not leafed out yet

Living in Prairie Canada, with a short season and low zone (2 or 3, depending on the winter and which zone map you use), I have a heck of a time finding good places to order fruit trees. There aren’t all that many places that carry ultra-hardy trees to begin with, and even fewer nurseries are willing to ship trees by courier or by mail.

Over the years, I have made a list of Canadian nurseries that have a good reputation, and who will ship fruit trees. I have personally ordered from most of these companies at some point in the last 10 years, and have been happy with the service I have received. Of the ones I have not personally ordered from, all but one have received good reviews from fellow growers that have ordered from them before. Only Prairie Hardy Trees is too new to have much of a reputation, but I’ve placed an order for this spring, and we’ll see how it turns out.

Here is my big list of Canadian hardy fruit tree nurseries that will ship by courier or by mail, in alphabetical order:

Boughen Nurseries

Based in Nipawin, SK, Boughen Nurseries has a good selection of ultra-hardy (zone 2) fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, and small fruit. I have ordered from them in the past, and was impressed with the size and vigour of the trees I received.

Corn Hill Nursery

Located in New Brunswick, Corn Hill Nursery specializes in roses (many of which are zone 2 hardy), but they also sell fruit trees and small fruits. While they only ship the large fruit trees by special arrangement, they will ship small fruits such as currants, haskaps, and grapes. We’ve gotten roses from Corn Hill, and they’ve done well even in extremely hard winters.

Golden Bough Tree Farm

Based out of Marlbank, ON, Golden Bough Tree Farm primarily specializes in landscaping trees such as birch and maple. However, they do have a small selection of fruit and nut trees, and they will ship bare-root trees within Canada.

Grimo Nut Nursery

Grimo Nut Nursery is based out of Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON. They specialize in nut trees, but also offer some fruit selections. Grimo’s trees are mostly suited to the warmer growing zones in Canada, though there are a couple of selections that are hardy to zone 3.

Hardy Fruit Trees

Specializing in hardy and ultra-hardy (zone 2-4) fruit trees, Hardy Fruit Trees is based in Rawdon, QC. They graft on full-sized rootstock, so if you are looking for dwarf trees, they may not have much for you. They have a good selection of trees, including some of the newer Russian pears that can be hard to find.

Haskap Central

Specializing in haskaps (duh!), Haskap Central is located in Henribourg, SK. They only sell haskaps, but they have a wide selection of cultivars to choose from, and they do not appear to have a minimum order.

Nutcracker Nursery

Based in Maskinongé, QC, Nutcracker Nursery is primarily focused on hardy nut trees (zones 3-5), but they also offer quite a broad selection of fruit trees, including some zone 2 & 3 apples, apricots, plums, and pears. They have really good descriptions of each variety. The website is not as user-friendly as some, but it is worth tolerating the endless scrolling to look through all of their varieties.

Pépinière Ancestrale

Located in St-Julien, QC, Pépinière Ancestrale does not appear to have an English website option (the site is entirely in French), but Google Translate is your friend, here. They have a good selection of zone 2-4 fruit trees, as well as small fruits and grape vines.

Prairie Hardy Nursery

This site is brand-new, having just come online in spring, 2019. Prairie Hardy Nursery is based out of Two Hills, AB, and their shipping to AB and SK is much cheaper than shipping things in from Ontario or Quebec. They currently have a pretty limited selection, but there are some interesting options in there, and everything is ultra-hardy, to zone 2. I have ordered a couple of things for spring, 2019, and we’ll see how they perform.

Prairie Tech Propegation

From Bonnyville, AB, Prairie Tech is the go-to place for larger quantities of haskaps, saskatoons, currants, and dwarf sour cherries. They have a minimum order of $200, and you must order at least 5 of each cultivar, but this is a great option for acreage owners or large-scale permaculturalists. They also offer a variety of shelterbelt trees.

Rhora’s Nut Farm & Nursery

Located in Wainfleet, ON, Rhora’s Nut Farm specializes in nut trees. Their trees are mostly suited for the warmer Canadian growing zones (zones 4-7), though there are a few varieties that are hardy to zone 3 or 2. They also offer some rare / unusual trees and shrubs, as well as small fruit.

Silver Creek Nursery

Silver Creek Nursery is located in Wellesley, ON. They are committed to organic and sustainable practices, and are in the process of becoming certified organic. Silver Creek has a wide selection of fruit tree varieties, including apricots, pears, apples, plums, sweet cherries, and peaches. While they do carry some zone 3 selections, most of their trees are more suited to the warmer Canadian zones (4, 5, and 6). Because of this, you will want to check the rootstock of your selections if you are in a colder zone. That said, I’ve gotten apricots from them that have survived terrible winters that killed off some of my other trees that should have been fully hardy.

T&T Seeds

T&T Seeds is primarily a garden seed seller, but they also carry some fruit trees and berries. They bill themselves as specializing in short-season annuals and perennials, and most of their fruit tree stock is hardy to zone 2 or, at most, zone 3. T&T is based out of Headingly, MB.

Treetime

Treetime is not primarily a fruit tree seller, and they generally offer bulk amounts of their trees. However, there is a good selection of berries, some fruit trees such as plums, and some interesting native fruit. Treetime is based out of Edmonton, AB.

Vignes Chez Soi

Located in Granby, QC, Vignes Chez Soi sells grape vines. They have a wide selection of hardy grapes, including a few that are hardy to zone 2 & 3. Vignes Chez Soi carries blue, red, and green grapes. They also have some seedless selections that will grow in the warmer zones of Canada (4&5). We are trying out a bunch of grapes from Vignes Chez Soi, as grapes are a bit easier to push zones with, given that you can take the vines down, lay them on the ground, and cover them to insulate them for the winter.

Whiffletree Nursery

From Elnora, ON, Whiffletree Nursery has a wide selection of fruit trees, including some unusual things like shipova and improved mountain ash. While most of their trees are geared more toward the warmer Canadian zones, they do have a significant number of zone 3 hardy fruit trees. Much of the rootstock they use is also hardy to colder zones (though you will still want to pay attention to the rootstock if you are in zone 2 or 3).

Do you know of other reputable fruit tree nurseries that will ship trees within Canada? Leave me a comment, and I’ll add it to my list!

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Big List of Where to Order Fruit Trees In Canada - Rural Dreams

By Jess

16 Hardy Apple Trees for Zone 2 & 3

March 9, 2019 | Orchard | 2 Comments

Two green and red apples on a branch.

A lot of people have the impression that there isn’t much we can grow here in Zones 2 and 3. While we won’t be growing citrus or peaches or sweet cherries, there is a surprising selection of fruit trees that survive or even thrive in our climate.

Apples are the original prairie hardy fruit tree – at least when you are discussing introduced varieties. We have a crab apple tree here that is probably original to the house (from the 1950’s), and there are many older apple trees in the various towns and farmyards around here. Apples are particularly nice for the homestead, because many varieties store well in a root cellar for several months, allowing you to harvest them and put them into storage without having to can, dry, or freeze them.

Most Prairie apples are smaller and more tart than what you would buy at the grocery store…especially since the apples at the store seem to be getting sweeter and sweeter! Recent breeding programs have improved many varieties, but there are also older favorites that are worth a look. The University of Saskatchewan has posted a fantastic article from 1991 by breeder Roger Vick, which discusses the history and development of Prairie-hardy apples, with a list of ‘recommended’ varieties; it also includes a list and brief description of all of the hardy named varieties at that time.

The University of Saskatchewan also has extensive descriptions of the apples they grow at their test site, which are worth checking out.

The Hardy Fruit and Nut Trees of Alberta group on Facebook is another great resource for growing fruit in difficult conditions.

I have made a big list of Canadian bare root fruit tree suppliers, but some of them are located in relatively warm zones in Ontario and Quebec, so you will need to pay a bit of attention to what rootstocks they are using. We prefer Antonovka (full size trees) and Bud 118 (Semi-dwarf trees) for our cold, windy, and drought-prone location; other rootstocks might be just as good or even better for you, depending on your minimum temperatures, soil type, and rainfall. It is also worth noting that most apple trees require a pollenator, so check your neighborhood to see if there is an apple or crab apple nearby, or plan to plant two trees.

A red apple hanging from a branch.
Image by pixel2013 on pixabay.

Here are sixteen hardy apple varieties that are on our homestead or our wish list, with links to some reputable suppliers that carry those varieties (at least as of spring, 2019):

Battleford (zone 2) – a classic Prairie apple! The Battleford apple was selected here in Saskatchewan, and is very hardy. They are also quite early, ripening in mid-August. It is best used as a cooking apple. Silver Creek Nursery carries these.

Cortland (zone 3) – Another old selection, that was released in 1915. Cortland apples are fairly late for the Prairies, ripening in October. They are reputed to be quite disease resistant, and the apples themselves are slow to brown, making them especially good for drying; they are also sweet enough to eat out of hand. Silver Creek Nursery and Whiffletree carry these.

Fireside (zone 3) – An older (early 1900’s) selection that is reported to be quite sweet and juicy. They ripen in mid-October, and are said to be excellent keepers. I haven’t gotten one of these yet, as my focus has been on earlier apples – I am not convinced that a mid-October would have a chance to ripen here, most years; however, it’s on my wishlist as a sweet apple that is a long-keeper. Silver Creek Nursery carries these.

Honeycrisp (zone 3) – A newer apple that is quite popular. We have a Honeycrisp here at our place that has survived some very low temperatures (below -40), and we are quite pleased with how well the apples store. In our area, the apples are pretty tart at harvest, but they get sweeter in the root cellar. Most of the sites indicate that Honeycrisp is difficult to grow, but ours has done well with no special care. I think we got our Honeycrisp from T&T Seeds, but Whiffletree and Silver Creek also carry them.

A cold-hardy zone 3 Honeycrisp apple
A Honeycrisp apple from our own tree

Lautz (zone 3) – This one is on our wish list, as it is reported to be a very long-storing variety that will keep up to 6 months. Hardy Fruit Trees carries these.

Minnesota 447 / Frostbite apple (zone 3) – These are an older variety, which was identified and used for breeding other apple varieties in the early to mid-1900’s, but not released as a named variety until 2008. The flavor of these apples is described as being intense and sweet, and they are reported to be excellent storage apples, lasting up to a year in commercial storage. These are not a vigorous tree this far north, but I really wanted to try one, just for the storage time. They ripen in mid-October. We got ours from a local nursery, but they are also carried by Whiffletree

Norkent apple (zone 2) – Bred in Morden, Manitoba, Norkent is a very hardy tree, with good quality eating apples. Norkents are supposed to be decent storing apples, as well, storing up to 14 weeks, though they are reported to lose flavor towards the end of the storage time. They ripen in mid to late August. We got ours from Whiffletree, but they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees and T&T Seeds.

Norland apple (zone 2) – A very hardy medium-sized apple that is good for fresh eating or making applesauce. Norlands ripen fairly early – in mid-August, which is handy in our short season. They are also reported to bear fruit quite young, though we haven’t gotten fruit from ours, yet. We got our Norland apple tree from a local nursery, but they are also carried by Silver Creek

Nova Easygro (zone 3) – These newer apples have been described as ideal for organic growers, as they are very disease resistant, and will store for a couple of months. They are also reported to be a tasty apple, with crisp white flesh and a sweet flavor. It is on our wish list because of the disease resistance, but has not been a priority due to their late ripening (mid-October), which is late enough in the season that we probably would not get ripe apples most years in our location. Silver Creek and Whiffletree carry these.

Parkland apple (zone 2) – Parkland apples are extremely cold hardy (though susceptible to fireblight), and are grown as far north as Alaska. They are described as being tart in flavor, but they are very early (early August) and will keep for a couple of months. We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery; they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees.

Prairie Sensation (zone 2) – A University of Saskatchewan release from 2006, Prairie Sensation is described as an aromatic apple with a pleasant, mild flavor. It is also supposed to be a good storage apple. They ripen in mid-September, which is perfect for our season. We ordered one of these from Whiffletree for 2019.

an apple tree branch with apples on it
Image by Capri23auto on pixabay

Red Astrachan apple (zone 3) – These were developed in Russia in the 1700’s, and are reported to be very flavorful. They are a fairly early apple, ripening in mid-August. We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery, and I haven’t seen them anywhere else.

September Ruby apple (zone 2) – A super-hardy apple with medium-sized fruit that is good for eating or cooking. As the name suggests, they ripen in early September, and are said to be a good keeper (up to 4 months). We got ours from Whiffletree.

Sweet Sixteen apple (zone 3) – These apples are described as having a complex flavor that is almost spicy, and that taste better when grown in cold climates. They are fairly disease-resistant, and are said to store well, though I haven’t seen anyone commit to exactly how long they will store for. Sweet Sixteen apples ripen in early October. We got ours from Whiffletree Nursery, but they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees and Silver Creek.

Wealthy apple (zone 3) – Wealthy apples are an heirloom variety that dates back to the mid-1800’s. They are reported to be juicy and sweet, as well as disease resistant, making them good for organic growing. They ripen in early September, so they will ripen before things freeze here at our location. Wealthy apples are on our wish list. Hardy Fruit Trees, Whiffletree, and Silver Creek Nurseries carry them.

Wolf River apple (zone 3) – These are a heritage cooking apple that are renowned for their large size. They are fairly late (early October), and susceptible to fireblight, but are resistant to most other apple diseases. I was quite taken with the idea of producing huge apples, though it will be hit-and-miss with our early freezes. Our tree hasn’t produced fruit yet, but I am excited to see how big they are when it finally does! We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery; they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees.

If you missed it earlier, you can find links to a ton of Canadian fruit tree suppliers here.

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Sixteen Hardy Apple Trees for Zone 2 and 3 - Rural Dreams

By Jess

Ordering Bare Root Fruit Trees in Canada

March 1, 2019 | Orchard | No Comments

a row of young fruit trees in a grassy area

Just a couple of days ago, it was -35 at our place…and it’s almost March! While the newest zone map insists we are zone 3a, polar vortexes beg to differ, and drop us down into the -40 (and colder) range, which is pretty solidly zone 2. Locals say that these temperatures are actually closer to ‘normal’ than the 6 or so winters before; however, the extended (month-long) cold snaps are an anomaly. Climate change is clearly messing with weather patterns, and extended cold snaps may well be part of our new normal.

I suspect that long stretches of cold are not as hard on fruit trees as the melt-and-freeze cycle of chinooks that we used to get in Alberta, but we lost several of our young trees last winter, when we experienced similar long stretches of deep freeze. We plant several fruit trees and bushes every year, in the hopes of having a lush orchard at some point. This year, there were a couple of things I really wanted, so I ordered them very early, as they had sold out the year before. However, with all this cold, I am looking at ordering a few more trees to fill in the gaps I expect we’ll see in the orchard, come spring.

There are actually a pretty good selection of fruit trees that are rated zone 2 and 3 – the main trees that grow here are apples, pears, and plums, and there is a reasonable assortment of varieties from each type. However, there are not many tree nurseries that are actually within reasonable driving distance, which means we’re often ordering bare root fruit trees from far away.

We normally order bare-root trees. Bare-root trees are trees that have been grown in fields (rather than in pots), then dug up, washed off, and shipped by mail. We’ve had excellent success with bare-root trees; we’ve only had a few that did not start leafing out within a few weeks of planting, which is a pretty good success rate, when you consider how many trees we’ve planted. Our trees don’t always make it through the winters, though, which is mostly our own fault – we tend to ‘push’ zones a bit, and try out varieties that may not be fully hardy in our area.

A newly planted bare root fruit tree that has not leafed out yet

Because we’re often ordering from far away, we’ve found there are a couple of things we really have to pay attention to.

A lot of the Canadian fruit tree nurseries that will ship trees (the majority, really) are in southern Ontario and Quebec. Most of them are at least zone 5, and a couple are as warm as zone 7. Nurseries generally strive to be accurate in their zone assessments, but a zone 5 or 6 nursery is not going to be able to conclusively say that any given tree will ‘make it’ in zone 2 or 3. Sometimes things are not quite as hardy as advertised, so there is an element of risk when you are ordering from a nursery several zones warmer than you.

The odd nursery really stretches credibility with their zone ratings, so if something seems too good to be true, like a peach or a sweet cherry that is rated hardy to zone 3…well, I recommend you put your wallet down and save your money, or maybe go buy a lottery ticket, instead.

The other issue that we occasionally come across is a perfectly hardy cultivar that is grafted on a rootstock that won’t take real prairie winter. We’ve found we really have to watch this with pears, as some of them are grafted on OhxF rootstocks, which are only supposed to be zone 4 hardy, or Quince A, which simply won’t take our winters at all.

We prefer full-sized Antonovka rootstock for our apple trees, as it seems to do well with both cold and drought, which are our big challenges. We’ve also got several apples on B118 rootstock that have survived at least a couple of winters, and seem to be thriving.

Our plums and apricots are generally grafted on Mustang rootstock, which handles prairie winter just fine. Last year, we ordered a couple of plums on Myrobalan, which is supposed to be fairly hardy, though I’ve never seen a zone rating; this winter will be a good test for them, as it has been very cold.

I do recommend ordering bare-root trees, overall. If you pay close attention to the rootstocks, and cross-reference zone ratings (especially for things that seem too good to be true), you can get access to a much wider variety of cultivars, and it is often considerably cheaper to order bare-root trees than to buy potted trees at the local big-box store.

I’ve created a big list of reputable Canadian bare-root fruit tree nurseries – check it out!

By Jess

Protecting Fruit Trees From Deer and Rabbits

February 24, 2019 | Orchard | No Comments

A young fruit tree that has been damaged by deer browsing and rabbits chewing the bark

Our first year here at the acreage, we planted over a dozen fruit trees – apples, plums, pears, and some smaller fruit bushes like currants and hazelnuts. We were pretty excited to get going with this whole homesteading thing!

Winter that year was fairly mild, and we didn’t run into any issues with the new trees. The next winter, however, was long and cold, with tons of snow and huge drifts. The wildlife really suffered in the cold weather, and they came right up close to the house to chew on our poor little fruit trees. The rabbits stripped the bark off the trunks, and the deer just bit the branches right off!

The wildlife damaged the trees so badly that a couple of them died, and several more were seriously set back, which was a sad and expensive lesson for us. We needed to figure out how to keep the critters from decimating our orchard.

Young fruit tree damaged by rabbits chewing the bark off

Coincidentally, that spring, we were doing some fencing, to create a pen for our buck goats. Goats are real escape artists, so the fences needed to be particularly tight. We had purchased rolls of tall wire mesh fencing, and, as they unrolled, we got the idea to fence the wildlife out of the trees, using the leftover bits of goat fence.

Basically, we just used roll ends to create circles of fence around each individual tree. Each fall before it snows, we bring out the ‘tree cages’, and set them up around vulnerable trees in the orchard. If they are tippy, we peg them to the ground using tent pegs, or use step-in electric fencing posts to hold up the fence, which adds a lot of stability; we don’t want the wire falling on the tender trees and bending or breaking them. Once it has snowed a couple of times, the snow does a good job of keeping the cages firmly in place.

A fruit tree surrounded by fencing to protect it from deer and rabbit damage

The fencing we use has very small mesh – 2×4 inches – and keeps the rabbits out. It is also quite tall – 5 feet – so it protects the trees from hungry deer, as well. Rabbits are terrible for chewing through the bark all the way around young trees – this is called girdling, and can kill the tree. We sometimes have problems with mice gnawing the tree trunks, as well, so we also put spiral plastic trunk guards on the youngest trees, to keep them from being girdled by smaller rodents.

In a few years, once the trees are well established and taller than deer can kill by browsing, we don’t bother with the cages anymore, though we do still put the spiral guards on the trees with thinner trunks.

In the spring, we remove the fencing, and store it away in a shed.

We haven’t lost a tree to wildlife since we started this, though our yard does look a little funny in the winter!

A winter scene showing caged trees and a small red barn.

By Jess