Fruit growing season delayed in central Okanagan

The cool, wet spring is having an impact on the fruit growing season in the central Okanagan.

“Last year at this time we would be seeing little tiny green balls that will form into apples,” Kelowna apple grower Darcel Markgraf said.

The apples, however, at her east Kelowna orchard are still mere buds.

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“The last two years we just felt like there was a train behind us and we had to go, go, go,” Markgraf said. “This year we are looking at our hands going, ‘OK, what do we do now?,’ so it’s a different feel this year.”

This year’s cool weather has delayed the growing season but that’s only compared to the last two seasons which started early.

“Two years ago, it was three weeks early. Last year it was a month early,” Fruit Growers Association President Fred Steel said. “This year it is on time and everybody says it’s late. Well, it might be as much as a week late because of the rain.”

At Dendy Orchards, the cherries are also behind schedule. It means harvest will be about three weeks later than 2016.

“We should have cherries this year much later in August so it will be a change,” cherry grower Niel Dendy said.

The cooler weather does have some pluses. At Dendy Orchards, the cooler conditions have meant no significant loss of flowers during pollination, unlike last year when a quarter of the product was lost due to early season heat. That means a bigger crop of cherries is expected.

The delayed growing season is also good for cherry exports.

“We have markets in Asia, which have festivals at the end of September where we get very high values for fruit if we can have them available at that time,” Dendy said.

While the prolonged cooler weather has a silver lining, the hope now is for warmer conditions.

“For cell division, for size, that is the big thing,” Steele said. “If we don’t get the heat at the right time, we don’t get the cell division, we end up with smaller fruit.”

The B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative is anticipating 12 million pounds of cherries this season, up from the 8 million pounds produced last year.

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