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From freezing to sweltering: Annapolis Valley farmers coping with heat wave

Long-time farmer Glenn Ells works in his kitchen garden. Ells says the impact a heat wave being experienced across the Annapolis Valley would have on crops would depend largely on its duration and whether or not farmers have the means to irrigate.
Long-time farmer Glenn Ells works in his kitchen garden. Ells says the impact a heat wave being experienced across the Annapolis Valley would have on crops would depend largely on its duration and whether or not farmers have the means to irrigate. - file photo

KENTVILLE, NS - After dealing with a devastating overnight freeze only a month ago, Annapolis Valley agrarians now have extreme heat to contend with.

Most of Nova Scotia has been under an Environment Canada heat warning for several days. Inland daytime high temperatures on July 4 and 5 were expected to reach 33C, with humidex values reaching as high as 40C.

Long-time farmer Glenn Ells of Sheffield Mills said that the impact of the heat on crops in many cases would depend on whether or not the farmer has an irrigation system in place. Most producers of cash crops now have irrigation. On the other hand, the Valley region experienced a heavy rain just prior to the heat and humidity setting in.

“We got a good, strong inch of water just a week ago and so this heat is not really going to dry everything out badly, especially if we get this rain they’re promising tomorrow,” Ells said on July 5. “If we don’t get that and it continues, it will need water.”

On the Ells family farm, which is now operated by Glenn’s son Stephen, they have approximately 32 acres of grape vines. Ells said the hot weather isn’t much of a concern for grapes, which have deep roots and don’t require irrigation. Regardless, he said they wouldn’t have much of a crop this year thanks to the overnight freeze from June 3 to 4.

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Ells said he isn’t a strawberry expert but most producers now have irrigation systems for frost protection and watering. He said any strawberry producer without irrigation would have been “wiped out” by the freeze.

If temperatures get too hot, it will accelerate ripening but irrigation system can be used for cooling to help slow the process down.

“I gave up growing strawberries in my garden because the pheasants used to come out and they’d eat them a little greener than I liked them, so I never got any,” Ells said. “I gave up sweet corn for the same reason, they would pick away at the corn and ruin that.”

Morse’s Farm Limited owner and operator Anthony Morse said on July 3 that they’ve been very busy harvesting strawberries on his Berwick farm and he has spent the past couple weeks loading and unloading trucks.

Although it had been very warm, Morse said it wasn’t so humid that it was unbearable. They continued to pick strawberries during the mornings and evenings.

One issue was that the heat caused a lot of the berries to ripen at once. Morse said they were “chasing” the crop to try to keep up so a large portion wouldn’t be lost to over-ripening. They weren’t yet falling behind but were “right there.” He said they are fortunate to have a good group of people helping them, both commercial pickers and u-pick customers.

Morse said that up until now there had been sufficient moisture from Mother Nature for his strawberry and potato crops but that could soon change due to the high temperatures.

“What’s happening now is there’s no real moisture in sight, so we’re getting to the point that we’re going to need to be irrigating starting at some point this week,” Morse said.

He said they’re currently picking strawberries seven days a week and could use more help. Anyone who would like to give commercial picking a try or who would like to pick their own berries are welcome to give his farm a call at 902-538-8446.

“The u-pick is great, people are loving the berries they’re finding there,” Morse said.

He said the u-pick was once very popular but just after the turn of the millennium this dwindled for about a decade. However, for the past few years, thanks largely to his wife’s promotional efforts through social media, it’s once again “hopping.” They’ve been seeing 20 to 30 cars on average at all times on the weekends.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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