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Strawberries: They're sweet, they're juicy and they're finally here

Cool weather delayed ripening of south Island's strawberry crop
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Rob and Ray Galey with flats of locally grown strawberries at their Galey Farms Market on Blenkinsop Road on Monday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The Saanich Peninsula’s long-awaited strawberry crop is finally ripe and customers are snapping up sweet, juicy berries picked daily in local fields.

Cool weather and rains postponed the harvest by about two weeks, said farmer Rob Galey of Galey Farms on Blenkinsop Road.

Other crops are lagging behind schedule as well.

Right now, the extra-sweet June-bearing strawberries are for sale and ever-bearing berries are coming along as well. Plantings are staggered to provide berries throughout the season.

“We are in full production,” Galey said Monday. “The berries are fantastic.”

A pint of local berries sells for about $7.50 at many farms.

This year, 18 workers from Mexico returning to work on Galey’s farm arrived to find spring’s cooler temperatures had delayed the harvest. Conditions were ideal for weeds, however; weeds were growing more quickly than food crops.

Workers did extra weeding until the berries were ready.

Nugget potatoes will be up for sale shortly, with carrots about two weeks away and corn two to three weeks from now. “Everything is coming — it’s just later,” Galey said.

At Dan’s Farm and Country Market on Bear Hill Road, farmer Dan Ponchet said everything is two weeks behind schedule. “But what are you going to do? We just have to put up with the way it is and do the best we can.”

Customers are asking when pickling cucumbers will be ready — they are normally for sale in mid-July or even earlier, but this year, they will be later, probably by the end of next month, he said.

After earlier cold temperatures, the recent blast of hot weather does not suit strawberries, which prefer a temperature of 20 to 22 C, said Ponchet.

Environment Canada’s weather website shows temperatures reached 29.5 C on Monday at Victoria Gonzales weather station. The berries should be happier the rest of this week, with a high of 20 C predicted for today, followed by 18, 22, and 21 C on Friday. There will also be a chance of showers in the next couple of days.

At Dan’s Farm and Country Market, any berries left over from the day’s sales will go into the freezer to be sold later in the year — one way to extend the season for farmers, Ponchet said. “We are open year-round so I need stuff to sell in the wintertime.”

Ponchet’s market is brimming with many types of produce, including rhubarb, beets, spinach and kale. The young spinach requires extra care because it needs to be watered daily.

He expects the first of his four acres of blueberries to be ready in another couple of weeks for customers who want to purchase ready-picked berries or pick their own.

While he’s had to deal with everything from the late season to rising prices for everything from workers’ wages to fertilizer and fuel, Ponchet is pleased with produce growing in new greenhouses, which also helps bolster supply throughout the year.

Anyone interested in buying goods from local farms can go to islandfarmfresh.com, which is searchable by areas on Vancouver Island and lists products and what is in season.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com