by Rachael Cheverie
There is a lot of interest in developing land for perennial crops – apple orchards, bush berries (highbush blueberries, currants, and haskap), cane berries (raspberries and blackberries), vineyard crops such as grapes, and even some perennial vegetable plantings such as asparagus and herbs.
Site selection is important with any crop but it’s the most essential element of success when thinking about perennial crops. You need to match the attributes of your site with the crop you are trying to grow. I frequently get phone calls from landowners who have a piece of property that they’d like to do “something” with but aren’t quite sure where to start.
A great starting point for Nova Scotia producers is to look up your soil type using the Nova Scotia soil survey maps. You can look at the maps by county or region. They’re available online at sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/publications/surveys/ns/index.html.
Once you have found what your soil type is, you can either go into the main body of the soil survey report to read about the characteristics of the soil type or get a quick summary at sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/soils/ns/soils.html.
These reports and descriptions can give you a pretty good idea about whether or not your soil is suitable for agriculture and then help you narrow down even further the types of crops that might grow well on a particular property.
Perennial crops generally like deep, well-drained soils, as they need to establish root systems that will anchor and feed the plant for many years to come. In general, perennial crops will do poorly on soils that remain wet for much of the season. Wet soils can take longer to warm up in the spring and initiate growth, which can be important for perennial fruit crops that have a long season (such as apples and grapes). And if the situation is extreme, wet soils can become anaerobic and deprive the roots of oxygen for long periods of time, which can lead to root disease development.
The ideal soil types are those that are coarser textured such as sandy loam or loamy sand soils. It can be very difficult to establish perennial crops on fine-textured, heavy clay soils even if they are tile drained.
If you’ve determined that the soil type may be suitable, the next steps are to take soil samples to determine the soil’s fertility and pH, and then properly amend the soil for the crop. Some nutrients, such as phosphorus, are not very mobile in the soil and need to be added into the root zone area before planting. Adjusting the pH can take up to a couple of years, so it’s best to start this process at least a year before you plan on having plants in the ground.
It’s also important to look at climate data for your area. Environment Canada has historical weather data online for many of the Nova Scotia weather stations. You can find information on growing degree days, dates of first and last frost, temperature normals and extremes, and more.
There is also fairly detailed information available online for the southwestern part of Nova Scotia from 2011-15 through the Grow Southwest Nova Scotia climate study.
This information can help you determine which crops might do well and which to avoid. It will also help you narrow down which varieties would be best suited for your area. If you are unsure on how to interpret this data, please reach out to one of the horticulture specialists at Perennia.
If you are new to farming in Nova Scotia and find all of this overwhelming, a great place to start your farming adventure is the Nova Scotia New Farmer website at nsnewfarmer.ca. This resource has lots of great information on site selection, land preparation, pest management, and post-harvest handling of the crop.
(Rachael Cheverie is a horticulture specialist with Perennia Food and Agriculture Inc. based in Bible Hill, N.S. She provides expertise and advice to cranberry, greenhouse, haskap, grape, and vegetable producers. Her particular strengths include pest management, site assessments for new plantings, and production information.)