Monday, August 24, 2009

Blueberries Quite By Accident




















The three generation Steeves family ( Raymond, Terry and Cory )became a Limited company in 2004 becoming the Elgin Hiview Farms Ltd., though they have been commercially harvesting blueberries since 1967.

Raymond Steeves of Midland, Elgin bought another farm in the Mapleton area to expand his existing farm in Midland. Here his plan was to grow more hay crops for his herd of beef cattle. Upon closer examining of the newly bought land he discovered fields of blueberries.

Raymond knew the Elgin area was rich in blueberry crops that at that time were being managed and harvested by Bridges Brothers of St. Stephen, N.B. and the Collin family from Nova Scotia. So knowing the potential Raymond began pruning and expanding his new fields. One of the daunting tasks were to pick the fields clear of rock as you can see in one of the photos here.

In the early years of blueberry production the Steeves family hired 75 to 80 local people to rack the berries. It was a family effort and Terry's wife Shirley looked after the cleaning machine's that were set up near the pickers. These machine had a high powered blower that when berries were dumped infront of them the majority of the leaves were blown away. This made the berries ready for the transport to the Oxford Frozen Foods in Nova Scotia.

As the pickers became older and young people less plentyful the Steeves family purchased, in 1988, their first blueberry harvester. These machines aided in making the industry more cost and time effective, as well as picking the blueberries cleaner. In order for these harvesters to work to their greatest potential fields had to be groomed even more. More stone had to be picked and weeds kept to a minimum.

The harvesters pick close to the ground, at a 90% effeciency rate, the berries are then carried by conveyer belt and dumped into 400 lb. capacity yellow boxes at the back of the harvester. These boxes, when filled, are hydrolicly dropped onto the field where Raymond picks them up and delivers them to the 5 ton transporting truck. The berries do not need to be cleaned in the fields, this is all done at the Oxford Plant. If there are no trucks before them the Elgin Hiview trucks can be in and out and back home in five hours.

At the end of each blueberry season the plants were burned off with oil burners, this made that crop dorment for the next year. Then flail mowers were introduced to cut the plants off after harvest, which was a more environmental and cost effective proceedure.

In order for the blueberry fields to have a good yeild they need good snow cover during the winter months. If there is too much rain in the spring the plants will need to be sprayed for blight and fungus. The young blossoming plants need to be cross pollinated by bees. This is another challenge for there's are not enough wild bees to take care of their 250 acres of blueberry fields.

Terry and Cory tend to their 200 hives both winter and summer. There are 1000's of bees to a hive and they need protected from the winter eliments. In late October the hives are transported; with their doors closed, and at night, closer to home. A little honey is left in each hive enough to feed the bees all winter, then an insulated bag put around each hive.

Very cold winters and very wet springs both effect the health of the hive. When these conditions occure an antibiotic is mixed with icing sugar and fed to the bees to keep them in optimon condition. Terry gets all his bee supplies from "Country Fields" on the Coverdale Road.

In early June the bees, once again with their door closed and at night, are taken back to the blueberry fields to pollonate the blueberry blossoms. Once they are all put in their place an electric fence is erected to assist in keeping bears out of the hives as they love the honey they know is inside.

The health of the bees is everything to the blueberry industry. When more bees are needed worker bees or drones are taken from one hive and placed in a new hive. Here they are introduced to a new queen who comes in her own little cage of honey. Once inside the hive she eats her way out of the cage. After a week Terry and Cory check to see that she has made her way out, and if not, they assist her. There is still a risk that the drones may not accept her. If that happens she is killed and the drones then begin feeding one special larva Royal Jelly to creat their own new queen.

Sometimes a hive may become over crowded. When this happens one queen and a group of drones swarm the hive to set up elsewhere. If they do not go too far and Terry and Cory can find them they place a new hive, with honey in it, beneath the swarm and they eventually go in. There is little danger of getting stung during this process because the drones are so intent on protecting their queen.

The threats to the health of blueberry fields are bears, not so much for how much they eat, rather their rolling around amoung the berry plants. Weather, too hot and too wet play havic with fruit bearing. During a hot dry summerthe Steeves boys irrigate the fields from a man made pond on their Mapleton Rd. fields. Snowmobiles and ATV's that go off the trails kill many plants. At one time they had a problem with birds eating the berries, this occured during the spraying for the Spruce Bug Worm. The spraying killed the birds natural food and they resorted to ripe blueberries, but once this spray program ended nature went back to normal and the birds once again fed on the worms.

Elgin Hiview Farms ownes blueberry fields on Gowland Mountain, Collier Mountain, Mapleton and in Elgin.








11 Comments:

At 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi i went to school with Cory Steeves. I was wondering what he was up to and now i know. Looking like you and your family are doing good cory. Yours turly Bonnie-Sue Steeves

 
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