With the climate playing new tricks, the pumpkins and strawberries are unsure what to do.
The frost is coming, explains Rob Galey, as he chews on a September strawberry growing in the “tunnels” of Galey Farms.
Because the frost is here – and Halloween isn’t – rot is threatening thousands of pumpkins.
“It was a long summer. The plants think it’s fall. It’s crazy.”
If it was five years ago, it would spell disaster for Galey Farms’ annual Pumpkinfest.
Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to visit the Blenkinsop farm for its family-friendly train ride, corn maze and hayride throughout October.
Obviously, a field of rotten pumpkins isn’t good for business.
But the only sweat from Rob Galey, dad Ray and their employees right now comes from hard work.
“We just pulled out a harvest of at least 25,000 pumpkins and it will be about 40,000 when we’re done, and that’s just as a reserve,” Galey said. “There’s no way I’m going to run out of pumpkins for Pumpkinfest.”
Visitors can rest assured.
With two acres of Haygrove Tunnels (a temperature moderated form of greenhouse) purchased in recent years, the Galeys are able to store the 400 bins of pumpkins outside without fear of rot.
“We had to pull out 20,000 strawberry plants to do it, but what other choice did I have,” Galey said. “We had pumpkins turning orange in the third week of August. Never seen this before.”
The strawberry plants were tired and had been producing at the highest rate Galey’s ever seen.
The “tunnels” are actually a specialized transparent poly plastic that sits on a u-shaped arc. When sun hits the polymer the harmful rays are diluted while the helpful rays are broadcast into a spectrum. The walls of the tunnel can be lifted, thereby creating a temperature-controlled environment.
“No frost in the tunnels, we’re just lucky we have them. If I could, I’d cover the farm with these,” Galey said.
As much as Galey is figuring out how to answer the problem of a traditional pumpkin harvest that may no longer fall in late October, he’s also coming to terms with the weather boon that is supplying Vancouver Island strawberries for six months this year.
“Locally grown fruit on the Island for six months of the year? Can’t complain,” he said. “People drive here every day from Duncan, Ladysmith and farther because we have the best strawberries on the Island.”
The hayrides, corn maze and petting zoo of Pumpkinfest are open Saturdays and Sundays in October from 10 a.m to 4 p.m.