Good weather, fewer deer top capital region farmers’ wishlist

The region’s farmers are turning their eyes to the skies, where a mixed bag of weather is forecast for spring planting already underway.

Other than recent rains, conditions through the winter and spring to date have been favourable, farmers say.

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“The next couple of weeks will be really busy, as long as we get good weather,” Terry Michell of the Saanich Peninsula’s Michell Bros. Farm said Monday. The family sells a variety of produce at its high-profile store at 2451 Island View Rd.

Spring weather so far has been better than last year, Michell said. Carrots, lettuce, kale and beets have been planted. Fields with existing strawberry plants are being tidied up and new plants are going in. Winter crops such as kale, cabbage and leeks are still being harvested.

Grain is being substituted for carrots in rented fields because of the ongoing challenge of dealing with deer, which are destroying crops. Carrots will be planted on the family farm where the land is closer to home, allowing farmers to chase away deer, Michell said.

Deer don’t seem as interested in grain crops as carrot tops, he said. Once a deer munches off the top of a carrot, the mechanical harvester can’t pull it up.

At Dan’s Farm and Country Market, 2030 Bear Hill Rd., Dan Ponchet is continuing his 20-year project of fencing “every single field I have. As I keep leasing more fields, I keep fencing,” he said Monday. “When you have valuable crops like berries, you can’t take chances on deer.”

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce have been seeded in the greenhouse. As the soil dries, those crops will be planted outdoors. He’s already put spinach, peas, carrots and other vegetables in the ground. Rhubarb is nearly ready.

Sales last winter were up from the previous year, said Ponchet, who grows new offerings, including Chinese cabbage and more melons, to attract buyers. He’s putting in another 250 apple trees in a new orchard to add to the 300 trees already producing crops.

Ponchet is president of the Southern Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association. It encourages citizens to buy from local producers as farms cater to a growing enthusiasm for locally produced food.

The weather forecast for the Victoria region calls for a variety of conditions through Sunday, according to Environment Canada’s website. The week is expected to be mainly cloudy. Today calls for morning clouds and there’s a 40 per cent chance of showers in the afternoon and evening. The sun is predicted to show up on Thursday along with more clouds, which will stick around for the remainder of the week.

At Silver Rill Berry Farm, 1490 Hovey Rd., Pamela Fox and husband Ron Townshend have prepared for cool weather by keeping about 175 mason bees in the fridge over the winter. Every day or so, Fox puts out a few more, now in their pupal stage, to emerge in a couple of days to pollinate their sweet and sour cherry trees and berries.

“Mason bees will go out when the weather is little cool and it is raining,” Fox said. Babe’s honey bees are also housed on the farm. Honey bees, larger than mason bees, can be “temperamental when it comes to weather,” said Townshend. “They are great pollinators.”

Planting beds were cultivated in January when conditions dried out, Townshend said. Jobs included pruning currants in January and February. A top field will be planted with 2,000 black currant cuttings, now set out in pots. Black currants are the farm’s main crop, but it also grows red and white currants, gooseberries and jostaberries.

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