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Innovation


Harvesting sunlight


It took several years and a lot of hard work for Devin Jell’s trellis doodles to become a reality at Gartrell Heritage Farms.


By Judie Steeves D


evin Jell never intended to become a farmer. It all happened quite suddenly


while hewasworking on his degree inmolecular biology at the University of Victoria andmet JanineGartrell,whowas studying entomology. Little did he knowthat her


father,DaveGartrell, had five daughters, sowas on the lookout for a son-in-lawwhomight help carry on the orchard legacy the Gartrell family had created in Summerland. TheGartrell Farmwas among


the first commercial orchards in theOkanagan Valley, founded in 1887, and it is still in the family, with the fifth generation currently working the land on the Trout Creek delta. The Jell family decision allowed partners and brothersDave and Fred to retire. Today, Jell has a string of national


awards fromtheRoyal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto for the apples he grows onGartrellHeritage Farms,while Janine looks after their three growing girls andwaits for the next addition to the family to be born. The young couple first took over


operation of the 27-acre apple orchard, with the help ofDave, in 2007, but Jell admits hewas a little disappointed they didn’t reallymake anymoney that year. So, in 2008, he ordered 26,000 new


apple trees fromtheU.S. to replant 12.6 acres on the JohnsonRoad parcel, Fred Gartrell’s, to high density in 2010. As heworked in the orchard and


considered the upcoming replanting, Jell 20


JUDIE STEEVES


says he looked at the rows, 12.5 feet apart and thought about the sun thatwas beingwasted on grass. “(In growing tree fruits) allwe’re trying to do is harvest sunlight,” he noted. So, he did some


doodles on paper, creating a trellising


systemthatwouldmaximize sunlight penetration, training the trees at an angle out over the tractor roads between rows. At the time, he didn’t realize similar


systemswere in use elsewhere. He had the steel supports custom


made in Bakersfield, California, for a “great price,” and theywere delivered for replanting in 2010. That’s a year Jellwon’t soon forget. Heworked 97 straight days, 13 to 14


hours a day, until hiswife said he had to take one day off. Then hewent back and worked right through fromthe end of March to the end of harvest that fall, doingmost of the plantingwork himself. One of the biggest problemswas


getting the supports in at the right angle, so he and the backhoe operator came up with an implement they could attach to the backhoe to pound in the steel


British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall 2013


supports. Itworked sowell it buckled the steel


support. So, that had to be scrapped and itwas


on to plan B, recalls Jell. It took four years to finish the trellis,


and there’s still some tweaking to be done. In the end they had to drill a hole for the posts to slip into. He’sworked it out and they used


enoughwire to stretch all theway to Chilliwack,with 20wires per row. “But it’s got to hold up a lot ofweight,”


he grins. And, that’s exactlywhat he found last


year—the first year he didn’t strip the newtrees: the strong young trees produced 29 bins to the acre, and itwas only their third growing season. “Itwas a smashing success that far


exceededmymost optimistic projections,” he crows. Jell admits he pampered the new


trees. “I look to the trees to speak tome; to tellmewhat they need. Even though therewas good bloomthose first two years, I stripped themsowhen they did crop theywould be raring to go.” FromSpartans, Fuji,GingerGold,


Gala, Ambrosia and Sunrise, he planted the property to half Ambrosia, and the rest to Pink Lady,Honeycrisp, Aurora GoldenGala and Sunrise,with the idea of spreading out harvest over a longer season.


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