Produce growers continue to learn tricks of the trade

Fruit and vegetable growers say they learn 
how to battle new bugs every year

GULL LAKE, Sask. — The greenhouse offers a garden-like setting complete with above ground swimming pool, patio furniture, tropical plants, flowers, vegetables and the warmth and bright light of a summer day.

Diana and Kevin Baumann of Pick Me Produce grow a host of edibles in and outside of this greenhouse near Gull Lake.

They are part of a 2,000 acre farm growing lentils and durum wheat with Kevin’s parent, Bob and Carol, who live just a farmyard away. Each own their own land but they farm together, with Diana taking on more of the greenhouse work during the busy field crop season.

They lighten their farm workload with summerfallowed fields, something they say is necessary because of their light land.

Their one-acre orchard and one-acre garden produce a wide variety of vegetables from hot peppers, cilantro and lettuce to tomatoes, cucumbers and microgreens and from pumpkins and cantaloupe to peas and carrots.

In addition, trees growing fruit as varied as haskap, sour cherries, pears and black currants provide enough for local markets and their own 
family.

“We don’t even go to the kitchen, we just eat snacks here,” said Kevin.

He also commutes to a job as a grain buyer at the SWT grain terminal near Gull Lake, and Diana works as an educational assistant and special care aide.

They say U-pick is not a realistic option here because of their location off a long grid road.

“We are kind of isolated,” said Kevin, citing the 45-minute commute to their regular selling venue at the Swift Current Farmers’ Market.

They have no competition locally, having bought and moved the greenhouse from the operators who left the business in Gull Lake. They chose direct marketing because they like the interaction with customers.

Precipitation has been measured this growing season in tenths of an inch.

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“There’s been little rain so far,” Kevin said in June.

The greenhouse business grew out of Kevin’s longtime love of gardening, as evidenced by the well-treed farm lane that winds its way to the family home.

“I enjoy the yard, it feels like a park in here,” said Kevin.

The former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration program supplied many of the trees here.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do all this without them,” said Diana.

Kevin said his family are big gardeners.

“I had a passion for gardening,” said Kevin, whose oversized watermelons have fared well at competitions in Smoky Lake, Alta.

“It’s more of a hobby gone wild,” said Diana, citing the $35,000 investment made in the business.

“It’s grown on me.”

She said she feels rewarded watching plants grow into food. She does the lion’s share of the work involved in seeding plants that receive synthetic fertilizer and regular irrigation but no herbicides or pesticides.

Beneficial bugs are brought in to combat the ones harmful to plants such as spider mites, white flies, thrips and aphids. A diesel heater warms the greenhouse when needed.

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Wildlife damage to trees was countered by installing a sturdy fence around their drip-irrigated fields. Nets may be added one day to keep birds from eating the fruit.

“We feel more apt to splurge when we are going to make money,” said Kevin.

The couple has no immediate changes in mind but have set aside a treed area for future expansion. They would eventually like to add bees to help with pollination and a reservoir to avoid hauling water from a dugout.

The Baumanns get help from their two school-aged boys.

“As the kids get older, we will let them lead some expansion,” said Kevin.

All are active in the community, with Kevin serving on the Antelope Lake Regional Park board and Diana on the Hazlet student representative council. Most winters, the family escapes for a warm weather vacation.

They direct market, maintain a Facebook page and can offer fresh produce early in the season be-cause of the greenhouse. They also sell to Diana’s family’s bakery in Swift Current.

“We want to make money but don’t feed our family on it. We want to do a good job and bring a service and share what we love to do,” said Kevin.

Market gardening has been a work in progress and not without missteps for the Baumanns.

“We learn as we go. Every year, it’s a different bug and we learn how to fight it,” said Kevin, who took classes in horticulture at the University of Saskatchewan. “We dust ourselves off and try not to let it bug us.”

Contact karen.morrison@producer.com

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