The autumnal equinox this Saturday marks, officially, the first day of fall, and for many it’s a reminder of the upcoming seasonal harvest. Pumpkins, squash and apples will be amongst the crops coming off farmers’ fields and onto shelves in the coming weeks, in time for the heightened demand particularly as September rolls into October.
The conditions are looking especially favourable for a bountiful harvest this year, according to local producers, as this autumn comes on the back of a warm and eventually wet summer.
“Well the heat and lots of sunshine really helped this season,” says Karen Good of the Good Family Farm Pumpkins. “So our production – we’ve got lots of it, and it looks really nice. We got rain at the right time, so the size is really good and with all the sunshine, that helps the squash to get really flavourful too.”
Located on 909 Bridge St. E., the Good Family Farm grows and sells dozens of varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds during the fall months, along with seasonal decorations like corn husks and straw bales, directly from the gate. With a combination of warmth and moisture over the summer, Good says they are expecting a more generous crop this fall than in previous years.
“Last year was cooler and rainy, and our production was down last year. Especially in squash. I mean we still had lots, but we ran out of some varieties,” notes Good. “Now the year before, 2016, was also warm, but it was more dry. So stuff grew well then, but not quite as big.”
The view was mirrored by Solomon Martin, of the West Montrose Sunny Slopes Family Farm, located at 1183 Northfield Dr. E. With a variety of crops for sale farm-gate, including seasonal pumpkins and gourds, as well as sweet corn, potatoes onions and decorative flowers, Martin observed generally favourable trends.
“I think it was an overall good season,” said Martin, noting though a delay in rainfall. “Maybe a little bit on the late side, but it was in the later part of the season it was timely. Fairly timely rain.”
Apple producers, too, are noticing the effects of the warmer weather.
“Weather-wise, it’s been a little bit too warm, a little bit too dry,” says Norman Horst of Maple Crisp Orchard, 1888 Listowel Rd., Elmira. “We wish for a little bit cooler weather – apples tend to ripen slower with cooler weather. They always get, I would say, maybe a better flavour … a better colour for sure, if it’s cooler.”
Horst sells his produce off the farm, as well as at the Elmira Farmer’s Market during the fall.
“But still, the apple crop looks good. There’s lots of apples. The apples are maybe a little bit smaller on account of the lack of moisture, but certainly, it’s been good.”
Charles Stevens, chair of the Ontario Apple Growers, notes that the industry has been enjoying a favourable growing season this year, especially after suffering several years of inclement weather.
“In the last number of years we’ve had some pretty devastating extremes, from having a big frost event, having a major drought in 2016 in most of the apple parts. We had a very severe winter in the early 2015. They put stress on the trees. The trees were entirely stressed out,” he says.
“We lost apple trees because of these stresses on the tree. They couldn’t take it anymore, so they didn’t have the energy to produce a good crop the next year, the year after.”
However, this year the growing season is looking much more positive, said Stevens with the fall harvest coming on the back of a more moderate summer this year, as well as a wet, cool summer the year before, giving the trees the chance to recover.
“There’s always somebody hurt by mother nature. But as a whole industry, we’re having a fairly good year up to this point. We will know more after the harvest is done, because we’re not done that, we’re just starting. But definitely, it’s looking promising.”