Rob Galey, owner of Galey Farms, holds a strawberry plant at one of his farm’s fields in Saanich. (Kevin Menz/News Staff)

Hot, dry conditions in Greater Victoria no surprise for Galey Farms

Vancouver Island vineyards thrive in the heat expected to last all week

Crews at Galey Farms are busy in the strawberry fields.

The Saanich-area farm also grows carrots, potatoes, corn and pumpkins, but owner Rob Galey said workers are focusing much of their attention on the berries this week, because of the recent high temperatures in the Greater Victoria area. He’s worried about potential sunscalding — which is, essentially, a sunburn for plants.

“We don’t have any [sunscalding], but we’ve got to keep picking so we don’t get it,” he said.

The Greater Victoria area saw record temperatures — nearing or at 30 C — a few times this week, and, with dry conditions, Galey said his crews must work quickly to harvest strawberries. Still, the farm owner noted the warm weather and dry conditions did not take him by surprise.

“We’re ready for the worst,” he said.

Read more: Growing the South Island: Rob Galey, Galey Farms

Grass around the farm has been kept cut low this season to avoid the spread of any potential wildfires, and Galey said he was ready for the hot days in which he’d need to dispatch most of his crews into the strawberry fields. Some of the farms watering and growing technologies also help mitigate the effects of hot, dry weather.

The farm’s strawberry fields make use of plastic mulch and micro-irrigation. The plastic mulch covers the soil but allows the plant to grow through the covering, while the micro-irrigation allows for watering underneath the plastic.

The heat reflects off the plastic mulch during the day and is trapped under the covering at night, preventing wide temperature swings during growing.

“This stays very consistent,” Galey said.

He started switching to the newer technologies several years ago, because of the changing weather on Vancouver Island.

“You’re going to have to change with the times — extreme temperature, extreme rainfall, extreme winds. You just got to be ready.”

The B.C. government announced a Level 3 drought rating for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands last week.

Lamont Brooks, a co-owner of Symphony Vineyard in Saanichton, said the last five years have seen half the rain the area received in the ’80s and ’90s.

He prepares monthly climate summaries for the Wine Islands Growers Association. Hot, dry weather is a benefit to most wine growers.

Read more: Province calls on Islanders to conserve water immediately

“Global warming is a big challenge for human civilization, but we as wine growers, from a selfish point of view, are benefitting from the dry, warm summers,” he said.

Symphony has yet to water its vineyard this season, and Brooks said the business typically only waters about four or five nights per season.

Ken Winchester, winemaker and master distiller at nearby de Vine Wines and Spirits, shared similar sentiments about de Vine’s vineyard.

“We water less and less, and we actually like the roots to dry up slightly before we feed them, before we water them again, because it encourages the vines to push their roots down further,” Winchester said.

The barley de Vine grows for its whisky is more of a concern, with the hot, dry conditions.

“We grow barley for our whisky. That would be more worrisome,” he said.

Daily high temperatures in Victoria are expected to reach above 20 C each day for the rest of the week, according to Environment Canada.

—- with files from Nick Murray/News Staff


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