Saskatchewan is well known for its ability to produce cereal crops—but who would guess it also produces high quality tree fruits?
Located in the Qu’Appelle Valley just 30 minutes from Regina, Over the Hill Orchards is growing sour and sweet cherries, grapes, plums, pears, peaches, nectarines and apricots. It also produces strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and more. All of the fruit produced is certified organically grown.
Owners Dean and Sylvia Kreutzer were city dwellers until 11 years ago. Dean was a computer programmer, and Sylvia was a travel agent. While Sylvia grew up on a farm in northern Saskatchewan, Dean was born and raised in the city.
It was during a trip to the local garden centre that they discovered the wide range of fruit trees available to Regina gardeners.
“They had pears, plums, grapes and cherries—I was blown away. I didn’t know we could grow these in Saskatchewan,” says Dean.
“It made me wonder—why aren’t we growing them here like they do in the Okanagan?”
The couple planted some fruit trees in their backyard and grew fruit for their own consumption. The following year, they moved to an acreage near Lumsden and took their fruit trees with them. Their new home came with 40 acres of land. “I took a look at the land and thought, wow, that’s a lot of land. We could do a lot with that,” says Dean.
Because of the land and their passion for fruit growing, Dean and Sylvia began thinking about creating an orchard. They traveled to orchards around the country learning about fruit varieties and the associated climate and soil requirements. In 2000 they visited the University of Saskatchewan and tasted the sour cherry, which researches in the Department of Plant Sciences had just developed.
“Sylvia looked at me and said, ‘We have to grow these!” says Dean.
In the summer of 2001 they planted their first cherry crop.
“The learning curve was vertical. A computer programmer knows absolutely zero about horticulture—so I started taking horticulture classes via correspondence through the Prairie Horticulture Certificate program,” he said.
During the first few years they had many challenges and made a lot of mistakes. They dealt with grasshoppers and droughts—and they killed a lot of trees—but they learned a great deal in the process. “We really learned on the job. There were a lot of people who thought we were crazy, but when you’re passionate about something you can overcome quite a bit.”
The following year they planted apples and grapes, later introducing plums and pears, and Dean then began fruit breeding to create hardier varieties of their fruit. It wasn’t long before they began making products from their fruit. Over the Hill Orchards currently produces low sugar jams and toppings, cherry juices, fruit pies, dried cherries, cherry bark and chocolate covered cherries. The chocolate cherries have been such a hit they have been served to local celebrities, the Prime Minister of Canada, Canada’s Governor General and even Queen Elizabeth II.
The fruit and the value added products have been sold through organic/health food stores across the prairies, the Regina Farmer’s Market, online through their website, and until recently their retail store in Lumsden. Big changes are occurring for the couple as the store in Lumsden is being moved to the orchard site. The move was in response to a couple factors. “We had interest from some major chains about our products – they loved it, but our price was just too high. The new facility will help us address that. We also want more people to come out to the orchard,” says Dean. “There are so many unique things to see here; how we grow strawberries in eaves troughs, how we grow peaches, nectarines, and sweet cherries, and what it means to be Certified Organic, just to name a few.”
Many people already visit the orchard during the orchard’s regular Sunday tours. Dean says the new facility will include public space where tourists can enjoy coffee or tea and sample a piece of gluten-free pie. It will also offer small conference room space for organizations wanting a unique location for business meetings and short conference sessions.
“Our goal is to be in the top five things to do in Regina.”
For more information on Over the Hill Orchard, please visit their website or contact:
Over the Hill Orchards
Telephone: (306) 530-9133