Farmers bursting with berries in Cowichan

Cowichan Valley, prepare to be berried alive.

Thanks to the excessively hot conditions of the last few weeks, it looks like there will be a bumper crop of berries of all sorts in the region.

"I guess it’s just good conditions for them this year," South Island Saskatoons co-owner Sharon Vanhouwe said. "It’s been sunny and warm."

South Island Saskatoons did extensive pruning at the end of last season, so they were expecting fewer berries this year, but with harvest time approaching fast, Vanhouwe estimates there are five to eight pounds of berries on each tree. They started blooming about a week earlier than last year, but are now on about the same schedule.

"The season is about four weeks, and there are two weeks where they’re probably at their peak," Vanhouwe said on Wednesday. "In another five days or so, they’ll be at their peak for two weeks, depending on the weather."

This is the second season that Vanhouwe and her husband Monty, and her parents Dan and Carol Teichrob, have owned the farm, although it has been operating for many years. They had been turkey farmers in Saskatchewan before moving to the Island and had no experience with fruits and vegetables. When last year’s crop came all at once, they were overwhelmed, and eventually had to hire a shift of workers to help out. This year, they’ve hired two shifts.

Like many produce farmers in the area, they are on a well, and employ drip irrigation to water the crop.

"It helps the berries fill out and be juicy," Vanhouwe said.

The farm offers U-pick berries, and sells frozen berries and a wide range of saskatoon berry products, including pies, jams and frozen yogurt.

Customers, Vanhouwe said, like to put the berries in smoothies or on cereal, or just enjoy them as-is. The farm store has a board where customers can pick out cards with recipes they want to try.

Nearby at Cowichan Bay Raspberries, Ian Windsor is also expecting a big haul this summer.

"It’s coming on strong," he said.

"This weekend, if it heats up like they say it will, it’ll be good."

Windsor has been farming raspberries, thornless blackberries and loganberries for about nine years after converting the hay fields where he grew up into an orchard.

He started with one field and grew from there, and now has about two and a half acres of berries.

Cowichan Bay Raspberries offers the U-pick option and also sells pre-picked pints.

"I love to see people come out and get their own," he said.

The raspberries are "two weeks to the day" early this year, Windsor said, and should be ready in the next week or so, lasting about three or four weeks on the bushes. Blackberries are about three weeks away from being ready, but should last until the end of the summer.

The loganberries will also be ready in the next week or so, but don’t last very long once they’re ripe.

South Island Saskatoons is located at 1245 Fisher Rd. For more information, visit www.southislandsaskatoons.com or call 250-743-7475.

Cowichan Bay Raspberries is at 1510 Robson Lane. Call 250-743-2094 for more information.