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Dry fall weather a boon for pumpkin crop, say farmers

While a cold spring meant a late planting, the pumpkins flourished and dry weather hardened their shells, which didn’t rot from rain or frost
Rob Galey, left, and Ray Galey check stock in the Galey Farms U-pick pumpkin field. The dry fall weather has been a boon for Saanich Peninsula pumpkins and the farmers growing them. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

It’s made life difficult for spawning salmon and trees, but this fall’s extended stretch of warm, sunny days has been a bonus for Saanich Peninsula pumpkins and the farmers growing them.

While a cold spring meant a late planting, the pumpkins flourished and dry weather hardened their shells, which didn’t rot from rain or frost, as has happened in previous years.

Now that it’s harvest time, the pumpkins are easy to pick in dry fields — there’s no slogging through mud or instant lakes created by nonstop downpours this year.

“This fall has been really excellent for farmers to harvest their crops and the crops are in good shape,” said Terry Michell of Michell’s Farm Market on Island View Road. “I would say it is one of the better pumpkin years, for sure.”

The farm harvested the largest amount of pumpkins in recent years on 25 acres — 800,000 to 900,000 pounds, said Michell, noting the first pumpkins started ripening around Labour Day.

“The pumpkins were in really good shape. There was no breakdown on them from rain or anything.”

They were also cleaner coming off the fields, he said, which meant the harvest was about half the usual amount of work.

Michell’s farm plants various varieties and makes sure its U-pick field has plenty of choices in a range of sizes, from about eight to 10 pounds. Most are orange, with a few white and other varieties.

The farm sells the pumpkins to supermarkets throughout Vancouver Island, and even sent 10 to 12 trailer loads to Alberta, where there is a shortage.

Pumpkins will be shipped out for two more days to the retail market, Michell said.

At Galey Farms on ­Blenkinsop Road, Rob Galey, who always plants more pumpkins than he needs in case of crop failure, is anticipating having pumpkins left over at the end of the season, which will become cattle feed.

Cold weather in past years has seen pumpkins freeze then thaw, then freeze again — temperature changes that can break down a pumpkin, weakening the surface of its shell, he said.

But there’s been none of that this year on the close to 20 acres the farm planted. “We’ve got beautiful, beautiful pumpkin crops,” Galey said.

He’s anticipating a record number of visitors for the farm’s annual PumpkinFest, which is so popular that the farm has moved to selling tickets online for attractions such as the corn maze of horror with its haunted house and graveyard, and the train ride and haunted display Carnevil, which has three exits for customers who get spooked.

At Dan’s Farm and Country Market on Bear Hill Road, families can walk among seasonal pumpkin patch displays and take photos of children with the pumpkins but there is no U-pick, although pumpkins — including pie pumpkins — are for sale in the market.

Farmer Dan Ponchet said he planted a few acres of pumpkins to sell at the market, and stopped watering them at the end of August, when pumpkins stop growing and start turning orange.

This year’s cool spring and extended dry summer and fall led to slightly smaller pumpkins than usual, he said.

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