Grim news from Ontario orchards

Tuesday’s annual farmer’s market on the lawn of Queen’s Park proved beyond a doubt that good things grow in Ontario.

There were devilled eggs, mushrooms and dip, award-winning wieners, veal meatballs stuffed with goat cheese, Kawartha ice cream cones and much, much more.

Asparagus salad was plentiful, and office workers who stopped by the white tents for lunch were treated to the very first Ontario strawberries of the season, picked Monday night.

Strawberries should be in good supply by June 10, Foodland Ontario predicts. It’s one small victory in what promises to be a heartbreaking year for fruit growers.

Their fragile blossoms unfurled during the crazy-hot days of March, only to be destroyed during a few freezing nights in late April.

“We’ve always had growers here and there hammered by frost,” says Art Smith, CEO of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, “but this is the first time it’s province-wide.”

There will be few Ontario cherries this year, sweet or tart. As for apples, Smith predicts “next to nothing.” Those that survive will be small and disfigured, he says, good for juice, perhaps, but little else. We’ll be deluged with Washington apples instead, along with B.C. and Nova Scotia varieties.

Pears were also hit hard, says Phil Tregunno, chairman of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board. The fruit develops a frost ring, he says, which doesn’t affect the taste but damages the skin.

Apricots and sweet yellow plums will also be scarce, Tregunno predicts, but blue plums and grapes appear to have escaped the hard frost.

In other good news, we should have “adequate” supplies of Niagara peaches and nectarines, he says. And they’ll be early.

“Some growers expect to start harvesting peaches July 1,” he said, “which is almost unheard of.”

With just 65 to 75% of a normal crop, however, supplies will be light and sell out quickly.

“We’ll see all the crops,” says Tregunno, “but they’ll be gone before you know it, so don’t wait to buy them.”

The sad part, he says, is that growers still need to spend money fertilizing and caring for their trees, even if they don’t harvest any fruit.

Until next year.

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