It's hard to believe that apple growing was once one of Salmon Arm's leading industries. The first orchard in the area was planted in 1891 by Anges McGuire. Later growers including Pete Parsons, Robert Turner, Nels Eckland, and Charles McVicker. Panoramic photographs of the time show much of the valley bottom and surrounding hillsides planted in acre upon acre of fruit trees. Killing frosts in early autumn and late spring soon made it obvious, however, that the hillsides were better suited to apple growing than the frost-prone low-lying areas.
Growers sold their fruit locally, to the CPR for its dining cars and hotels, and to the mining camps of southeastern B.C. Not until 1907 did growers pool their resources to pack and sell their products. The Salmon Arm Farmers' Exchange (S.A.F.E.) was born that year and it, as well as other packing facilities set up by independent growers such as E.A. Palmer and Robert Turner, packed and sold all the tree-fruit grown in the area.
Also in 1907, Edwin and Sarah Dodd moved to the Broadview area of Salmon Arm and there developed an orchard with the help of sons Fred and Charles. After Edwin's death in 1920, his daughter and son-in-law, Adella and J.C. (Bert) Hanna, moved from Victoria with their young son Stuart to help manage the orchard. Eventually, they took over the business and it became Hanna and Hanna Orchards. For many years it was run as a mixed farm with a Jersey dairy herd as well as the 80 acre orchard operation. Bert Hanna was active in local politics serving on municipal council from 1926 to 1932, and became a leader in the fruit-growing industry, serving as a governor of BC Tree Fruits Ltd. and as a longtime member and managing-director of the S.A.F.E.
By 1941, area apple production stood at 161,000 boxes and rose to 403,000 boxes five years later. Hundreds in the small community were involved in the fruit industry, either as growers or workers in the packing plants. The future of fruit growing looked bright~until the winter of 1949-1950 when a prolonged cold-spell killed or severely damaged many of the trees. Disheartened growers chose not to replant: only a handful persevered. Those who did replant, like the Hannas, endured hard times as they waited for the young trees to mature and bear fruit. During those years, Stuart Hanna worked graveyard shift at the Canoe Sawmill to support his young family and then worked all day in the orchard and dairy operation. (By the way we still have that old ladder from 1929 when this picture of Grandfather JC (Bert) Hanna, Earl Foreman (left), and Dad Stuart F. Hanna (right) was taken .)
Eventually the trees matured and thrived. Stuart’s sons, Stuart D., James and John, also matured and spent their summers working in the orchard , and today Stuart D. and James are partners, continuing in business as Hanna and Hanna Orchards.
There have been many changes over the years, from mechanization, to the types of varieties grown, to the training and cultural methods used in growing fruit. Currently about 45 acres are planted to 25,000 apple trees. In recent years, on-going orchard renovation has reduced the total area planted, yet the number of trees grown has increased substantially. Large old standard trees have been replaced by semi-dwarf and dwarf trees at much higher densities than in the past thereby increasing the total number of trees per acre. (The eventual size of the tree is determined by the type of root-stock the desired variety is grafted onto. Standard rootstocks may grow a tree over 20 feet high, whereas trees on semi-dwarf root-stocks grow 15-20 feet and those on dwarfing root-stocks grow only 8-10 feet.) Dwarf trees have a number of advantages: their small size makes them easier to work; they start to produce fruit and therefore a return on investment after only a few years; and light penetration into the tree is excellent resulting in higher quality fruit.
The Salmon Arm area has traditionally grown fruit without irrigation unlike the semi-arid Okanagan Valley which relies heavily on supplemental watering. While dry years can pose problems, our orchard is ‘blessed’ with heavy clay soil that holds water well so usually fruit-size and quality are excellent. Fruit from this area has traditionally had a reputation for exceptional flavour and keeping-ability, a result of the unique climatic and soil conditions.
Fruit growing is not without its challenges, however: extremes in weather such as the cold-snap in the winter of 1949-50 and the hail storm of 1994 can wreak havoc with a business plan. Prolonged periods of heat and sunshine such as in 1998 can cause extensive sun-scalding of the fruit as well as causing forest fires. Animal pests such as deer, mice and voles, as well as birds and humans can cause damage. And of course insects and disease take their toll. We practice an Integrated Pest Management(I.P.M)system in our orchard, endeavoring to use the most benign products and practices available to grow high quality fruit with as little impact on the environment as possible. We use monitoring devices to determine levels of insect activity and apply protective measures only when necessary. And while we are not ‘Organic’ growers, we use many organic principles. We do after all live in the middle of this orchard and have raised our families here. Rest assured that we strive to be as careful with the fruit as possible, not only for our own sakes, for yours as well. In recent years, new methods of insect control such as tree-banding, mating disruption, and in particular the Sterile Insect Release(S.I.R) Programme have resulted in the control of the coddling moth(the ‘worm’ in the apple) without the use of toxic sprays. As a matter of fact, most of the sprays we use during the course of the growing season are nutrient sprays such as calcium.
Until twenty years ago, all of our fruit was shipped to packing houses, first to the S.A.F.E. and later to the Vernon Fruit Union(renamed Okanagan North Growers Co-operative). Not until we sought to sell to local consumers did we grow anything other than commercial varieties such as McIntosh, Spartan, and Red Delicious. Many of the varieties we grow now are not considered ‘commercial’ but are extremely popular with our customers. After all, there’s more to life than Macs and Red Delicious. In fact, there are hundreds of apple varieties grown world-wide but only a few are ever available at grocery stores. So, in order to provide our customers with something different, we are growing some of the favourite varieties from yesteryear as well as the best of the newly developed varieties. But because Salmon Arm is at the northern extremity of the fruit growing region, we are somewhat restricted in what we can grow: our season is too short to successfully mature some varieties. Currently we have over 40 varieties in production and that number will increase as trees recently planted start to bear fruit. The future holds many exciting possibilities!