We haven't added to the website for a while; things have been relatively busy and we are dealing with health issues. As I look back on the year, I'm grateful that I can trust in God. We had really early spring weather, which then turned back to wintry weather, followed by more warm weather, then late frosts in June. The frost hit after most of our saskatoons were setting fruit, so I imagine that would help explain our low crop this year. Thankfully we are not yet relying on the farm for provision!
Our haskap, however, did excellent, and took the frost in stride. Not even a drooping leaf. I may have to add a full row or two! Our older test cherries are finally producing, and we are quite happy with the results. Our cherries are from the U of S program, namely Valentine, Crimson Passion, Juliet, Romeo, Carmine Jewel. They are plump and juicy, and Laura made the best cherry pie I've had in my life this fall!
Our apple trees are beginning to produce as well, and thankfully no fireblight or any disease issues this year. We added a few new varieties to the mix; I am particularly hoping that Honeycrisp does well; a bite into these sweet, juicy apples sounds like you're crunching on potato chips, they're so crispy good!
We added several cherry trees to the orchard (mainly Juliet), along with a pear in a very sheltered spot. We had one fruit this year, but the bugs got it in July. My deer-fencing has held up well, and it keeps most of the rabbits out. Stucco wire works wonders! We also expanded a few areas and next year plan on adding a row of haskap since so far they seem like a guaranteed crop. Our major fall project was to lay down landscape fabric around the saskatoons as mulch; it will hopefully keep the weeds down more effectively than our flax straw alone. We do a combination for winter (to help trap the snow), but I plan on removing the straw for summer.
The trees keep growing, and hopefully in a couple of years we will be able to begin marketing our fruit
After a cool and fairly wet spring, I was expecting another cool, wet summer. Thankfully I was wrong, and thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful, sunny season. We ended up selling "limited edition" saskatoons and honeyberries to a few people (including the friends who contacted me via this website), albeit slightly less than we had hoped due to the frost. The sunny weather was nice for growing, though, and the trees look good overall.
While this beautiful weather was pleasant for being outside, three months with no rain means irrigation becomes a necessity. Thankfully my saskatoons had already a few years of root growth in the ground; I only needed to water them a few times. This is currently all done by hand, since the first two summers were quite wet and until now I haven't needed much. If I had planted this year I would have had to water once per week, and with 240 trees, I'd be rigging something up.
The key to irrigation is providing the right amount of water at the right time; otherwise you end up with rotting roots, crispy leaves, or a weak root system. The best way of irrigating most trees and shrubs is to give them a good soak, saturating the entire rooting area. Preferably there should be a soil dike built around the root ball, especially if the trees have recently been planted. Then, in hot weather, let it dry out for maybe 4-5 days. Then check the soil a few inches below the surface to make sure it's crumbly dry, then repeat the soak or wait a few more days if it's still damp. This is important, because otherwise even if you are not overwatering, the roots will not spread out as quickly. In my case, I monitored the saskatoons' leaves, and thankfully, due to my soil type, the higher water table (that went down significantly over the summer) and a wet spring, I didn't really need to supplement much until August. I probably should have watered all my fruit a bit more often, but they ended up looking alright by the end of the year.
The other problem I had this year (and a bit last fall) was an annoying, destructive rodent. A few years ago I had a mole that killed many of our perennial flowers, but a neighbourhood cat ate him. Unfortunately, that cat died, and so this spring we once more had moles digging around, this time they expanded into my orchard. I have a scissor-type trap as well as a "spikes of death' trap, neither of which worked too well (probably my inexperience in finding the right tunnels). Thankfully, my boss from the Nursery had some free kittens that were mousers and litter-box-trained, and they have become my first non-family employees. My boys named them Flash and Cinders (a white male and grey female). They are now very proficient killers - and the added benefit is that they should also help reduce the number of pesky birds next harvest season!
All in all, a good developmental summer and fall. I purchased a few new apple varieties, some more cherries (that taste delicious!), and have nursed some pears that died back last winter back to life (and protected them better this year).
Living in Manitoba means every year there is a big enemy of all things growing: late frost. Countless greenhouse tomatoes have been struck down before their time, and ash trees get crispy black tips. It is also one reason why pears and apricots have some difficulties bearing fruit despite being technically hardy enough to grow well here.
In my context, frost can be a danger to saskatoons, particularly once bloom has begun. In "Growing Saskatoons" by St-Pierre (the main body of research done on Saskatoons by the University of Saskatchewan), he mentions that a killing frost is defined as -2.2〫C during active growth or flowering. Well, this spring, we had several late frosts. I had heard that we were typically safe from frost after the first full moon after May long weekend, but it definitely wasn't the case this year, with -2 on both May 24 and 25. (And a frost warning in June - yikes!)
This mobilized my research efforts, and I found a great handbook by the ag department in BC. Click on the handbook link for an interesting read on how frost is formed, and an evaluation of different frost protection. While fire can be useful (many small fires are better than one big bonfire), smoke can actually be detrimental. Long-wave radiation (heat from the ground) passes right through smoke, unlike clouds, so it does not trap or reflect heat back towards the plant, but in the early morning it will block the short-wave radiation from the sun. Wind machines can be effective but are very costly and must be set up correctly. Irrigation can be a great way protect trees, but another frost protection guide from the Iowa State University notes that when dewpoint is more than 5〫below the predicted low temperature irrigation can actually cause evaporative cooling and increase the frost damage (which was the case this May).
So, we ended up protecting them in one of the more labor-intensive ways - direct cover. We used stakes as a support, and covered our flowering fruit with blankets from friends, and for the second frost managed to pick up a few more from the local MCC thrift store. Since we had three nights in a row with frost warnings, we had to put them up and carefully close them off with clothespins or rocks at the bottom, and take them off again in the morning. We had enough to protect the 48 "fullest-bloomed" saskatoon trees (out of ~240), along with our veggies and cherry trees. It was a LOT of work. I later estimated that the covered trees had around 25% less frost damage, but significantly less frost kill. The cherries didn't fare quite as well, losing up to 90% of its blossoms to frost kill.
Honeyberries are virtually indestructible to Manitoba frosts, which is one reason I really like them. 0% damage to the post-bloom crop with no protection - these super-hardy fruits from Siberia can handle -7〫C in full bloom, and lower temperatures when they are tight. The crop looks perfect so far - I may be expanding this if I get good customer feedback this spring!
If you'd like to comment, tell me about your frost protection methods and how well they work. And if anyone knows the folklore about when to put your tomatoes in, do tell. Maybe Manitoba doesn't follow that rule anyway - I'm thinking of just waiting until June every year! (Although almost all of our frost-damaged tomatoes grew back this year)
We are tapping our native Manitoba Maples this year - friends of ours have been doing this for the last few years, and so we're giving it a try. Hopefully the weather works in our favor this spring! We are doing it the cheap way - drill a hole into the tree, jam in a tube that leads into a 5 gal. pail. And I'm covering the pails in used plastic shopping bags - better than going to the landfills! We'll write an update in a couple of weeks to tell you how it went - one tree that's in a sunny spot has been producing a bit, even though it is below freezing still.
Over the next few years I had an idea sprouting in my brain - the concept of a sustainable orchard. I always loved trees and fruit, and immediately planted a few apple trees when we built our house, but I began to consider the possibility of a small home business that could capture the imagination of the upcoming generation. I was familiar with conventional farming and the industry surrounding it, which rewards large-scale operations and ruins the family farm. And the idea of "the family farm" is not some romantic antiquated notion - it has been the backbone of healthy, stable societies since the beginning of written history. A great article with links to studies is found here. I wanted to exemplify the values and ideals of my generation: living sustainably so that my family, my physical land, my community, my country, and the world all benefit from my labours.
I took a few independent study courses (the Prairie Horticulture program) to learn more about horticulture and sustainable agriculture, and to see if my burgeoning idea was at all feasible. I left my desk job in fall 2008 due to health reasons, took the winter off to stay at home with my growing family, and then in spring 2009 I joined the team at Falk Nurseries. They specialize in trees and shrubs, and this fit nicely with my long-term plans. That summer I decided to go ahead with planting my first test-plot: 7 varieties of saskatoons, about 240 plants. And thus began the life of Friesen Fruits
This website is a first for me; I'm quite computer-savvy but have never needed a website before. Weebly seemed to be a popular and convenient website builder, and it's FREE, so I jumped in. Hopefully this experimental site will satisfy all your online needs! Feedback is always welcome, so if you have comments please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
As you may notice, I will be adding 'historical' blog posts to this story page, and they will be posted according to the dates they refer to rathur than to when I write them, and I will try to write chronologically.
Laura & I purchased the acreage in 2004. We had both grown up in rural settings, and we were expecting our first child in October so we searched the Steinbach area for a lot - I wanted to get away from Red River Valley flooding and those pesky beavers that kept gnawing down my Mom's trees in the Morris area. This particular lot had been logged it the early '90's, so while tall trees still ringed the outer edges, most of our new yard was dense with young poplar, elm, maple, and other native plants. I scouted out the tallest trees and marked the native fruits - saskatoons (which did great in '04), white-flowering plums, cranberries, hazelnuts, wild strawberries and wild raspberries (big ones). It wasn't much to look at from a "development" point of view, and my dear wife wondered if we'd ever get things sorted out - dense 'young' growth everywhere. And all that poison ivy...
Laura's Dad helped me plan the driveway, literally hacking through the mini-forest with machetes. He got poison ivy. We found a good spot for the future house, I spotted an area for the garden, where the plant life appeared particularly vigorous, and marked some trees to keep (I'm a sucker for nice MB maple climbing trees). Then my Dad came out with the Cat RC-50 and cleared out an area so I could plan my dream home.
Having perfectionist tendencies, I custom-designed a house, and we hired Hillside Construction to be our general contractors. I wanted to have an energy-efficient home, with passive-solar windows, geothermal heat exchange with integrated floor heating in the basement, and I even designed the wide portion of our roof to face South, just in case solar panels would someday become viable. Hillside managed to preserve a few of those climbing maples near the house, which was great, and by January 1, 2005 we moved in to our new home with our 3-month old baby. My Dad let me use the RC-50 and I spent many hours moving boulders, clearing trees, and making little hiking trails through the forest. I am an explorer at heart, and I was in my glory!
...God created the heavens and the Earth." (book of Genesis)
Not much is known about this land’s pre-history; some things may be guessed by the record of earth and rock. We live on the shores of the ancient Lake Agassiz - one can see the undulating coastline on soil survey maps. Our land lies in a section of loamy soil, with native saskatoons, cranberries, hazelnuts, and chokecherries mixed within stands of tall poplar and Manitoba maple. The orchard is part of a slight rise of land, with lower willow and scrub land around it.
The indigenous groups may have occasionally passed through but never lingered, with no rivers or streams in the immediate vicinity. When the waves of settlers arrived in the 1800’s they cleared large portions of Southern Manitoba and transformed it into rich farmland, but my small portion of wilderness remained since it was too rocky to be very suitable for cereal crops, and just a tad too far off the beaten path to be convenient.
My wife’s grandpa, Cornelius Esau, who grew up about a mile away, remembered hiking through this forest with his friends, looking for crow’s nests and picking berries. It was home to a multitude of forest animals; fruit bats and flying squirrels, coyotes and coneys and coons. Songbirds serenaded these leafy acres for generations, untouched by ax or plough.
My father’s cousin John Kornelson left the deep soils of the Red River Valley and bought this quarter-section of land. When he moved his friends and family laughed, saying he was giving up paradise to live in a rocky swamp on ‘yantsied’ (the other side of the River). In his autumn years he subdivided the land into small acreages, and this is where I enter the story.