Fruit trees

(Question)

I have a 50 acre farm near Penetanguishene Ontario and have cleared 2 acres. It is, or was, a pine forest that was once pasture land. I have planted 120 apple trees; twenty Asian pear trees and a variety of other trees like pau pau, cherry, crab apple and plum. The trees are green, flush, and flower each year but to this date, none have produced a single piece of fruit….at all. They are going on 6 years now but are non- producing, I think that maybe our soil is missing a specific nutrient, mineral or something but have no idea what. Is there a place we can have our soil tested, other than the University of Guelph? They tried to sell us tonnes of a specific fertilizer that a local farmer tells us would be useless. We kept bees but they did not make it through this last winter. Further, we have had fireblight in some of the trees and are spraying with fermilome antibacterial when the buds erupt as the directions suggest. The land is well drained, with sandy soil and full sun. I believe it is in zone 5a, or 5b. If we were farmers, we would starve!

Please advise..(aka…help!)

Mitch Plant

(Answer)

Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your questions.

Congratulations on the creation of  your 2 acre orchard. You have asked several questions, so be prepared, I have provided you with a lot of information here with sound reference material for you.

There may be several reasons contributing to the lack of fruit production in your new orchard.  Although your trees are producing flowers , then either you  do not have enough pollinators present,  or as you suspect there may be some deficiencies in the soil. Other circumstances such as harsh winter, or late season frosts during flower production, proper pruning methods, or even poor producing varieties are less likely here because you had blossoms to start with.

I agree that you want to analyse your soil , but it may also be of help for you to better understand what nutritional requirements are necessary to support fruit production, and also to aide you to better understand what you are analyzing and testing for. The following links provides you with precisely this;

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/pub360/pub360ch3.pdf

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/hort/soil_fruit.htm#AppleNutrition

While I would agree that you  should conduct a comprehensive soil  test by an accredited soil testing lab, you should also conduct a leaf analysis or what is known as tissue analysis. The later shows what your trees are actually absorbing, which can be affected by different environmental factors.

I can refer you to the following link to Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs site which provides you with a list of accredited Soil Testing Labs. You should be able to find what you are looking for here.

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/resource/soillabs.htm

 

You are on the right track in housing honey bees, and yes keeping them healthy can be a challenge , especially through a harsh winter as we have had. I would suggest , and suspect you have probably already started re-populating your hives, but maybe research how to better protect them over the winter. If the overall health of a hive is already compromised going into the winter , this of course greatly reduces their survival rate.

There are other pollinators many people are not aware of , the following link provides you with information on other pollinators in Ontario, and how to encourage them as well : A Guide to Creating a Pollinator Patch

Fire Blight:

The following government site provides considerable details on managing fire blight;

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/fireblight.htm#management

As an additional point of interest and education on the subject, there are different tools  for modeling or predicting fireblight based on different variables and growing conditions. It might be interesting for you to read up on some of these to help you to be aware of and how to respond to these conditions before the disease hits.

http://ipm.ucanr.edu/DISEASE/DATABASE/fireblight.html

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/apscab.htm

 

Best of luck with your orchard!