Hot weather brings early berries

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By Amanda Jess
Irrigation equipment might be working overtime in parts of the county (Kings County, Nova Scotia), but some berry growers are happy with the sunny, hot weather.

Earl Kidston is predicting a bumper high bush blueberry crop this year.

Blueberry lovers can start an affair with the local crops a little earlier than normal this year. Unless there is a severe switch in weather in the next few days, pickers can expect to hit the fields at Blueberry Acres July 20 - about two weeks earlier than usual.

Earl Kidston, president of Nova Agri, is feeling lucky with the company’s blueberry enterprise.  He said he is not only expecting an early crop, but a large and tasty one as well.

“In 21 years, we’ve never had a crop like this,” he said last week.

While blueberry season kicks into gear, strawberry season is winding down early.

John Lewis, a horticulturist specializing in minor berry crops at Perennia, said the strawberry season was short and sweet. He said the season for June-bearing varieties was about four weeks long, comparable to a typical harvest of five weeks.

Greg Webster of Webster’s Farms said his fields are still being picked, but he suspects his is one of very few farms.

“We started about a week to 10 days earlier, and we’re ending about a week to 10 days after.”

Webster said he experienced an average crop in terms of quality. He said a number of factors are responsible for the short season, including the dry conditions and underlying stress on the plants.

However, the early spring and warm summer may be giving next year’s crop a boost. Webster said new plants laid down in the spring are better established than this time last year.

Lewis pointed out strawberries are far from being done in the Annapolis Valley.

“There is significant acreage that continues to October,” he said, referring to later varieties of strawberries.

He shared Kidston’s optimism for blueberry crops.

 “There should be lots of berries for people.”

On the grape side, Gaspereau Vineyards’ winemaker Gina Haverstock from Gaspereau Vineyards said her plants could use some rain. Grape vines’ growth would slow down if dry conditions continued.

"We're not worried at this point, but a deep soaking would be nice."

To make up for lack of rain, Blueberry Acres has been irrigating, Kidston said. He predicts a volume of blueberries 10 per cent larger than any crop in the past.

Good news, when compared to last year’s dismal growing season. Kidston said the company was “almost embarrassed” with last summer’s display of berries.

“I’ve been in farming for 40 years, and I’ve never worried about not having enough sunshine, but that happened last year.”

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Geographic location: Annapolis Valley, Gaspereau

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