U-Pick Business Thrives On Hardy Varieties Apples

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Amanda Chedzoy does what many people think is impossible in northern Alberta she grows apples. In fact, there are 200 apple varieties, including 14 eating varieties, grown at Sprout Farms, near Bon Accord north of Edmonton.

The biggest problem is the dryness, says Chedzoy. In Ontario and other places, they have cold, but they also have humidity. The dryness is one of the reasons why we can t grow some of the varieties.

Chedzoy used to sell fruit trees, and started a demonstration orchard now a U-pick operation so people could taste different fruits before buying the trees. The orchard also has crabapples and cooking apples, which are also very tart because of their acidity.

It s the acid that makes the flavour come out really well when you re cooking, she said.

Many of her U-pick customers have roots in central Canada, and her trees are also acclimatized descendants of immigrants.

Most of the apples that we grow were developed on the Prairies, says Chedzoy, who no longer sells trees but is a full-time arborist in Edmonton and the surrounding area, and conducts seminars on how to maintain healthy trees and shrubs.

A lot of them came out of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In some cases, immigrants brought seeds and planted the seeds, and the ones that we have from that base are the ones that were hardy enough.

Many of the apples grown on the Prairies are of equal quality to the apple varieties typically sold in grocery stores, she says.

Things like Norkent taste a lot like the Gala apple it s just that people are not familiar with the names, she says.

Chedzoy relies mainly on word of mouth to get people to the orchard, and regular customers know that yield and quality are strongly affected by the weather in spring and fall. Chedzoy recommends starting young apple trees in the soil in which they will be grown and says they need a lot of water, especially when they re setting the fruit in the spring.

If you keep the water up over the summer, you ll get much bigger apples, she says.

The trees take anywhere from two to 12 years to produce fruit, depending on the cultivar. Most of Chedzoy s trees started producing after about five years.

She does all her own grafting herself.

Chedzoy and her husband keep a flock of 36 heritage sheep including Jacobs, Scottish Blackface and Shetlands which keep the weeds and grass down and enrich the soil with their manure. The sheep are moved to another area of the farm when customers come to pick apples beginning in late August.

Chedzoy doesn t need to use a lot of sprays and no insecticides. Most diseases common in Central Canada don t fare well in northern Alberta.

There is some advantage to winter, she notes.

Mice are a different story and in spring, Chedzoy needs to scout through the orchard for mouse damage.

If we see mouse damage, we try to bridge graft them or repair the damage somehow, she said.

Pruning is done in both spring and fall and as soon as the picking is done, the sheep return to eat windfall apples.

Chedzoy runs school tours in spring and fall, along with Patty Milligan of Lola Canola Honey. In the fall, the kids pick the apples, and make apple juice using an old-fashioned press. Milligan teaches the students about bees and pollination. In addition to the U-pick, customers also come out to make cider and juice. For more information, visit www.sproutfarms.ca

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Thebiggestproblemis thedryness, shesaid. In placeslikeOntarioand otherplaces,theyhave cold,buttheyalsohave humidity.Thedrynessis oneofthereasonswhy wecan tgrowsomeofthe varieties.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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