Fruit from the "Fruitless" Prairie

GEORGE F. CHIPMAN March 15 1926

Fruit from the "Fruitless" Prairie

GEORGE F. CHIPMAN March 15 1926

Fruit from the "Fruitless" Prairie


AFTER the suppression of the Red River rebellion, a young Scotchman discharged from Wolseley’s command homesteaded in 1872 about thirty miles from Winnipeg. He told me recently that he was the butt of much goodnatured ridicule from the pioneers along the Red and Assiniboine rivers near Fort Garry, who solemnly assured him that wheat would not grow farther back than five miles from the rivers.

That pioneer settler and many others still living and active have been eye witnesses of perhaps the greatest transition that has occurred in any fifty-year period on this old earth. Many prophets have been confounded and many cherished delusions dispelled by the agricultural development in the prairie provinces during that period.

As science came to the aid of agriculture the wheat belt was pushed to the west and the north, and the end is not yet. The advent of sweet clover and alfalfa, the discovery of the sunflower, the development of early maturing corn, the invention of the trench silo and the phenomenal growth in dairying, poultry raising and bee keeping have demonstrated the fitness of the prairies for “mixed farming.”

The evolution of the prairies is now passing into the final stage of development as a permanent dwelling place of a home-loving and more largely selfsustaining rural population. This is the era of homemaking and home-beautification through tree planting, fruit growing and gardening. Wheat raising will be the main industry on the prairies for many years to come, though “mixed farming” is making sure and steady progress. But where the home is most homelike there develops a deep and abiding affection which profoundly affects the permanency of all rural settlement ‘and develops family pride and tradition which are^among the glories and bulwarks of. country life.

Bare, Bleak Prairie is Going

FOR generations unknown, the prairie fire system by which the Indians regulated the migration of the buffaloes kept the prairies bare and treeless. It required many years to demonstrate to the_ settlers that this was not a natural state and that the prairie soil and climate were well adapted to the growth of a wide range of trees. From the Dominion Government Forestry Station in 7Saskatchewan over eighty million trees have been shipped in the past twenty years to form plantations around farm homes on the prairies. Thousands of bare farmsteads have been beautified and protected by the growth of these trees. The chilly blasts of winter are being robbed of their bitterness and the drying winds of summer curbed in their destructive tendencies. A prairie farmstead surrounded by windbreaks and shelter belts of ten years, growth — there are thousands of them — is as comfortable for the people and the •stock as any in any part of Canada. The prairie settlers in cooperation with Nature and the Dominion government are restoring the trees, without the use and companionship of which mankind has never made a permanent home.

Wherever there is good shelter available, whether provided by nature or man around

the prairie farmstead, garden vegetables can be produced equal in range and quality to those grown in any part of Canada. The family can also provide itself with fruit and flowers, in quality but little short of those produced in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. In a comparatively few years the bulk of the fruit requirements on the prairie will be provided at home in season instead of being imported as now.

“But,” says the skeptic, “you can’t grow fruit where the thermometer dips to thirty and forty and sometimes fifty degrees below zero.” The convincing reply is that apples, crab apples, plums, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and melons are already being grown on the prairies. In some cases the quality is not of the highest, but the improvement both in quality and quantity is very marked. Science is doing for horticulture whát it has already done in such a remarkable degree for agriculture. Hardy and tally maturing fruits have been and are being developed to suit short seasons and low temperatures.

The Father of Horticulturists

THE fruit growing industry on the prairies really originated in the Morden district of Southern Manitoba. Fresh from Scotland, the late A. P. Stevenson homesteaded in 1874 within seven miles of what is now Morden. There he did a splendid work and became the father of fruit-growing on the prairies. Having a well sheltered location, he determined, if possible, to grow fruit, and imported apple and plum and cherry trees from Eastern nurseries. For several years nearly everything succumbed to the winter temperatures. With true Scottish persistence, though smiled at by the few neighbors of those days, he continued to experiment.

It was in the eighties that he secured varieties of Russian apples introduced by the late Dr. William Saunders at the Experimental Farm at Ottawa. From that date Mr. Stevenson made steady progress and established an apple orchard which has yielded as high as three hundred barrels in one season. Such names as Repka Kislaga, Blushed Calville, Hibernal, Ostrakoff, Charlamoff and Simbrisk will not be known to apple growers in other parts of Canada, but they have laid the foundation of apple growing on the prairies. Mr. Stevenson’s sons have a perfect home market for their fruit. All o| it is carried away by neighbors who drive as far as fifty miles and bring their own containers. Crab apples Mr. Stevenson found more hardy and the standard crabs of Canada are quite at home on the prairies. In front of the old Stevenson home

is a transcendent crab apple tree which has been producing fruit for more than forty years. Other fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, currants and gooseberries Mr. Stevenson also grew, though newly introduced varieties are superior to many of those with which he began.

Wild plums grew in profusion along the stream which passed through the Stevenson farm. Mr. Stevenson selected from among them the trees which bore the best fruit and by cultivation and further selection he improved the quality. His “Mammoth” plum, until the recent productions of the fruit breeding stations, was one of the best grown on the prairies.

Editor, Grain Growers’ Guide.

But a few years ago the Canadian prairie was generally supposed to be utterly inimical to domestic fruit growing. Thanks to the persistency of the scientific plant breeder, extraordinary things are now being accomplished by the fruit growers of the plains.

A Notable Achievement

PERHAPS the most

notable achievement in fruit development made by Mr. Stevenson

•was his work with a Russian red cherry. About 1891 he secured from Iowa some seedlings of a red cherry just introduced from the Moscow district in Russia. Many of these winter-killed, but two varieties known as Vladimir and Shubianca withstood the winter test. When these trees fruited the Vladimir was found to be the superior.

It was a small red cherry of fair quality. Mr. Stevenson carefully planted the pits from the ripe Vladimir fruit and the trees of this second generation came into bearing about twelve years ago. As was expected, there was a great variation in the size and quality of the fruit on the different bushes. Again Mr. Stevenson selected the pits from the best cherries and in due time had about five hundred seedlings of third generation Vladimir cherries in his orchard. Two years ago they came into bearing and yielded a good crop and were ripe when the horticultural experts from East, North and South visited the farm. They pronounced the fruit from about six of the trees to be equal in size and quality to the Early Richmond and Montmorency, two of the best red cherries grown anywhere. By this slow and painstaking process a new high quality cherry with prairie hardiness has been developed. This “Stevenson Cherry” as it should be called, must soon find its way into the home gardens across the prairies.

Another promising red cherry which is going through somewhat the same stage of development as the Vladimir was brought by the Ottawa Experimental Farm from Northern Japan and is still known by its Latin name Prunus tomentosa. It is hardy on the prairie and its size and quality are steadily improving by selection and cultivation.

Another pioneer who has done much to push the fruit belt towards the North is W. J. Boughen, an Ontario lad who homesteaded in Northern Manitoba near Dauphin in the nineties. He had the horticultural “bug” and nearly broke himself financially planting fruit trees and perennial flowers when his neighbors said he should be growing wheat. Indeed they pitied him so much that they offered without charge to plow up his horticultural plantation and set him out again on the safe and sound course of grain farming. He declined to accept the offer and his plum orchard laden with excellent fruit has for some years been a revelation to thousands of visitors. Crab apples, raspberries, strawberries and currants, he has grown in abundance and in several seasons he has ripened watermelons and cantaloupes. Several varieties of grapes have ripened in Boughen’s nursery, the best being known as the Hungarian, which is much like the Concord in size and appearance and is equally good for jelly making, but is

not up to the mark for eating. A few years ago a neighbor of Boughen’s from the fruit growing district of Nova Scotia had two acres of strawberries from which he sold 7,000 quarts with profit, but old age and infirmity forced him out of the industry.

Saskatchewan has had for many years a demonstration that where good shelter is provided on the open prairie a wide range of fruit is easily grown. When the Dominion Government Forestry Station at Indian Head was established in 1903 it was on the treeless prairie. By 1908 when shelter belts were growing up on all sides, Norman Ross, the Superintendent of the station, had begun systematically to experiment with apples, crab apples and plums, securing most of his early stock from Mr. Stevenson at Morden.

Mr. Ross found that some of his apple trees sustained injury on the tops for a few years, but most of them recovered completely and he has to-day a fine orchard of apples and plums in the well-sheltered heart of the Forestry Station. His apples are mostly of the Russian varieties and the fruit is fully as large as any on the market. It is not in quality equal to the McIntosh nor the Delicious, but nevertheless several varieties are very palatable.

His plums and crab apples are fully the equal of the best known in any part of Canada. He grows the Hungarian grape and several other varieties without difficulty except that they require winter protection Raspberries, strawberries, currants and gooseberries have proven hardy and prolific at the Italian Head station.

Educating the Sand Cherry

PERHAPS the outstanding contribution to fruit growing on the Canadian prairies has been made by that famous fruit breeder, Prof. N. E. Hansen, at the State Fruit Breeding Station in South Dakota. For thirty years he has been engaged in the work and has bred'new races of plums, apples, crab apples, raspberries and grapes which have proven hardy in the prairie climate and many of them have proven superior to existing varieties. His greatest achievement to date is undoubtedly his sand cherry hybrid plums and cherries. Nearly twenty years ago when exploring in north-western Canada Prof. Hansen was much impressed with the possibilities of the native sand cherry, which grows as far north as the Hudson Bay Railway. Botanically this sand cherry belongs to the plum family. It possesses extreme hardiness and usually begins bearing fruit when the bushes are but two

years old from the seed. The small black astringent cherry which it bears in the wild state has practically no culinary value. Prof. Hansen saw in this little, bitter, useless cherry the progenitor of a race of hardy, low growing, early bearing fruits suitable to the north-western prairies. Carefully he selected a number of the little bushes from the most exposed northern locations and transplanted them at his station in South Dakota.

Under cultivation the sand cherries prospered and by planting the pits from the largest and best in each generation Prof. Hansen brought the native sand cherry up to a fruit one inch in diameter, fairly good for eating and excellent for cooking. No doubt, by continuing this process it will be possible to develop a native sand cherry that will be a most delicious fruit. But Prof. Hansen did not depend upon selection alone. From the luscious, tender plums cf Luther Burbank’s breeding he secured pollen, in some cases by'mail, and in other cases by growing the trees to blooming age in his greenhouse. With this pellen he fertilized the blooms of the barbarian sand cherry. Thousands of pits from this crosspollenated fruit were planted. Many of the little seedlings bore fruit two years after planting the seed. Most of them proved to be useless and the trees were consigned to the brush pile-—a necessary adjunct to any fruit breeding Continued on page 1+6

Fruit from the “Fruitless” Prairie

Continued from page 27

establishment. But here and there in the nursery rows were found little bushes producing fruit resembling the original sand cherry in color and shape but one and a quarter inches or more in diameter and possessing a flavor resembling the tender plum parent of California.

Of these sand cherry hybrids Prof. Hansen has named and introduced to the public probably thirty. Of these the Opata—the word is Indian, meaning bouquet—is perhaps the best of all in eating quality and when cooked it reminds one very much of the famous Greengage plum. The Sapa—Indian word meaning black—is slightly smaller with deep wine colored flesh and is excellent for eating raw, making preserves or jam, or canning. The Tom Thumb cherry of the same parentage and quality as the Sapa is very low growing, being about the size of a gooseberry bush In August, 1924, at the Morden experiment station, from a little o e-year-old Tom Thumb bush that was planted in the spring of 1923 I picked 225 cherries of splendid quality. I doubt if that record has ever been exceeded in the early bearing of good quality fruit. These sand cherry hybrids have proved hardy and fruitful on the Canadian prairies and even in the Peace River district hundreds of miles north of Edmonton. They are very low growing bushes, branching right from the ground and some of them frequently are loaded with fruit within a few inches of the earth. This low growing habit and early bearing tendency enhances their value tremendously. They will soon be grown everywhere.

In addition to the sand cherry hybrids Prof. Hansen has given to the prairies several standard plums of which the three most famous are the Waneta, Pembina and Tokata. The former fruit is better than two inches in diameter and compares favorably with the best imported plums that come to the Winnipeg market. The Pembina is slightly smaller than the Waneta but its range of hardiness seems to be wider. The Tokata is superior to them all in the flavor but is not quite so hardy. They are all of bright red color and a tree laden with this fruit resembles the best that the more favored fruitgrowing districts can produce. They have all proven hardy on the Morden Experimental Station and at Indian Head and promise to push the standard plum belt away North.

Prof. Hansen has a number of excellent crab apples to his credit that are hardy and productive on the Canadian prairies. One of them at least, the bright red Dolgo, promises to become one of the standard market crabs in the same class as the best produced by the late Dr. Wm. Saunders. His Anoka apple sets a new record by coming into bearing two years after planting. He has developed a number of new grapes by cross-breeding with the rich and tender varieties of the south, and is now cross-breeding the hardy Russian pear with the best pears of California, seeking to produce a good pear for the prairie farm. The settlers on the Canadian prairies owe a great deal to Prof. Hansen who, while working for the State of South Dakota, has been equally helpful to prairie Canada.

THESE various practical demonstrations so impressed the Dominion Department of Agriculture that when a new experimental farm was established at Morden in 1915 an area of one hundred acres was set aside for horticultural work. This station is now in charge of W. R. Leslie, B.S.A., a trained and experienced horticulturist and it has become the chief •

horticultural magnet in the province. The production of new, high quality apples for the prairie is being tackled in a scientific manner at the Morden station. No less than 25,000 seedling apple trees, mostly of hardy Russian and Minnesota parentage, were planted in 1916 and already over 4,000 of them have fruited. Most of the fruit is good only for cider making and the trees have gone to the bonfire. But there are probably three hundred or more of the four thousand that have given fruit of promise and these are being propagated and further tested in open orchard form. It will require another ten years of testing to tell the final story, but there is a certainty of several very fine apples being produced. A few of the best produced are reminders of the Gravenstein, Northern Spy and Winesap.

Many of the well-known standard apples are being given a thorough test at the Morden station. The McIntosh Red has gone through two winters without serious damage. The Crimson Beauty, the earliest of all Canadian apples and a native of New Brunswick, bore its first fiery red fruit at Morden during the first week of August, 1924, and yielded a good crop in 1925. If this early and tender apple will withstand the prairie winters, there is reasonable hope that some of the other standard apples may prove equally hardy.

At the Morden station a wide range of apples is now being produced, not only in the seedling orchard, but of Russian varieties as well, and many of them are reasonably good in eating quality. Crab apples are perfectly hardy and the quality is equal to any produced in Canada. Plum and sand cherry hybrids and all the small fruits are produced in profusion. All the new apples and other tree, bush and small fruits from Eastern Canada, Minnesota and the Dakotas are being tested. Currants of the highest quality are perfectly hardy and yield abundantly. The gooseberry is a regular bearer. Strawberries do well without either fertilizer or irrigation. Everbearing strawberries in 1924 yielded steadily from August until the last picking of five quarts on the first day of November. Many varieties of grapes have also fruited at Morden, and Hansen’s new introductions are being tested. It is doubtful if either in the Annapolis Valley or the Okanagan a more striking transformation could have taken place than has been accomplished at Morden during the past nine years. One acre devoted to watermelons and cantaloupes last season produced these luscious edibles in quality equal to anything imported from the states.

Seager Wheeler, the world famous wheat grower at Rosthern, Saskatchewan, forty miles north of Saskatoon, has for several years past been giving a good deal of attention to fruit growing and has demonstrated that crab apples, plums, cherries and grapes as well as the small fruits are hardy and productive in the soil and climate with which he has developed and improved so many different wheats.

AWAY up in the Peace River district several hundred miles north of Edmonton, the Hansen sand cherry hybrids have proven hardy and fruitful. In the driest part of southern Alberta John Glambeck, a Danish immigrant of fifteen years ago, planted thousands of trees around his farmstead, which was located on the bald prairie. For several years past he has had plums and bush fruits as well as strawberries and raspberries for his own use and for sale to his neighbors. Farther north in Central Alberta, along the

Saskatchewan boundary Andrew Ander" son, a Scandinavian immigrant, as his name indicates, has developed on his three-thousand acre-farm a most extraordinary plantation of trees. Within its shelter he has a large area devoted to fruit and flowers. Even the drought may be overcome when man co-operates to the full with the forces of nature.

_ Probably the most extensive commercial fruit undertaking on the prairies is that of J. H. Bates, who lives thirty-five miles east of Winnipeg on the forks of the Brokenhead River. Sixteen acres of raspberries have been bearing for several years and he has four acres of strawberries under cultivation, as well as having the foundation laid for a considerable orchard of apples, crab apples, plums and sand cherry hybrids. Bates is probably the melon king of the prairies. He grows the famous Oka melon produced by the Oka Agricultural College, Quebec, and the quality is said to be equal to the melon in its native haunts. The Montreal melon, so much sought after by the New York hotels, ripened well at Bates’ farm last summer, as well as several other varieties of the standard cantaloupes of Illinois and the central States. He transported his melon crop to the Winnipeg market by the dray load: as a result Winnipegers are becoming interested in home-grown melons, which they find quite equal to the imported varieties.

Here and there all over the prairies individual farmers are growing a portion of their own fruit and everywhere there is a real awakening to the possibilities of fruit growing. With the abundance of wild fruit on the prairies it is strange that the cultivated fruits were not grown more commonly years ago. The native saskatoon grows everywhere, even up into the Peace River country. Wild plums are very common as well as the native sand cherry. Wild strawberries, raspberries gooseberries, currants, pin cherries, choke cherries, buffalo berries and even wild grapes are abundant.

The abundance of wild fruit and the wonderful strides made by science in introducing new fruits in the past decade indicate a fruitful future for the prairie country. Most of these new fruits will undoubtedly be cross-bred productions with some of our hardy natives as one parent, or will be cross-bred with some of the hardy introductions from Siberia and Northern Japan. Our best commercial raspberries have been developed in the last ten years by fruit breeders in South Dakota and Minnesota. These withstand our severe winters without covering.

CURIOUSLY enough, the tender and delicious strawberry seems to possess an inherent hardiness possessed by few other fruits. The Everbearing strawberries originated in New York and Michigan but are quite hardy on the prairie. The best summer-bearing varieties of eastern Canada and the United States are very fruitful and possess sufficient hardiness to withstand our most severe winter weather. Farly spring frosts frequently nip the strawberry blooms and in some portions of the prairies the strawberry industry will probably never be a large one without irrigation, as strawberries require a regular supply of water. But, given proper treatment, the strawberry produced on the prairies is as luscious as that of any other locality.

Looking to the future, the greatest need on the prairie to-day is the establishment of two well-equipped fruit-breeding stations. The Morden experiment station is developing rapidly under very able management, but it requires additions to its fruit breeding staff and a larger area for fruit breeding work. An ideal place for another fruit breeding station is at Rosthern, Northern Saskatchewan, where the Dominion government already has a 640 acre experimental farm well equipped for general work. As this station is only forty miles from the Saskatoon University Provincial experiment station, the Federal Minister of Agriculture has stated that it will probably be closed. If it were made into a fruit breeding station in conjunction with and under the supervision of the Morden station, these two would probably provide sufficient accommodation to produce new fruits that would be hardy in every portion of the prairies. What Luther Burbank did in California with private means on a little area of twenty acres could be duplicated in much less time at government stations with larger staffs and ample room. The cost of

operating such stations would not exceed that of operating ordinary experimental farms of which there are many in the prairie provinces aside from Morden and Rosthern.

The re-discovery of the great work of Mendel, the Austrian monk, about twenty-five years ago gave a new impetus to plant breeding throughout the world. The Mendelian theory is now recognized as the foundation of scientific plant breeding. A large amount of money has been wisely spent, and is still being spent in developing early, heavy-yielding and rust-resisting grains; early maturing corn; hardy and heavy yielding alfalfa, and many other improved species in what might be called the economic field of general agriculture.

Fruit production on the prairies will never be an industry to compare in the economic sense with that of grain growing or livestock production. It will, however, add something most tangible to the comfort and health of the population. It will provide an attraction for the home which is now lacking and which cannot be provided by any other means. Fruit breeding stations on the prairies will be an investment which will return huge dividends of satisfaction and contentment which in turn will be translated into financial dividends not only for the people on the prairie but for the people of all Canada. When the horticultural development of the prairie provinces realizes its possibilities, California and Florida will be less attractive than they are to-day.