Crops come early

Long stretches of hot, dry weather mean that crops have been ripening faster than ever before in the Alberni Valley

Nash Dhaliwal displays what's left of his early blueberry crop at his Ship Creek Road farm.

Nash Dhaliwal displays what's left of his early blueberry crop at his Ship Creek Road farm.

It’s not even the end of August but the growing season at Nash Dhaliwal’s blueberry farm on Ship Creek Road is wrapping up.

“We started on June 25,” said Dhaliwal.

“We never pick this early, it’s the first time.”

The last week of July is a more typical start time, he said.

“After July 20, most times.”

But then in the past two years he’s started earlier and earlier.

KATYA SLEPIAN/Alberni Valley News

Nash Dhaliwal holds up the last of his blueberry crop.

“Two years ago we started on July 15 and last year we started on July 10,” Dhaliwal said, adding that starting in June is unprecendented.

“It’s too hot, too dry.”

Green berries first started to appear in April.

“That was early too,” he said. It’s the long stretches of hot weather with no break that ripen the blueberries so quickly, said Dhaliwal.

“The berries were ripe so quick.”

That’s saying something; Dhaliwal has been at the Ship Creek Road blueberry farm over 20 years.

“It’s been 11 years with just me and 10 years with a [business] partner,” he said.

“He was doing sales and I’d look after the farm.”

These days Dhaliwal does it all with the help of his wife Seva, his daughter Ruby and a crew of pickers, some of them from far away as New Zealand.

Two varieties of blueberries grow on Dhaliwal’s four-acre farm; blue crop and northland. He sells them both on the farm and at local markets like Naesgaards, where his crops haven’t been the only ones to come in early.

“Everything’s been starting earlier,” said Naesgaard’s Market manager Chris Naesgaard.

“It’s been a month or two weeks earlier so everything’s finishing earlier.”

There are some benefits to the earlier growing season, Naesgaard said.

“Strawberries will just keep on growing while the heat holds,” he said, leading to more strawberries.

KATYA SLEPIAN/Alberni Valley News

Chris Naesgaard, manager of Naesgaard’s Market, holds up a basket of local strawberries.

It’s not just Alberni Valley crops coming in early, said Naesgaard. The market sources its crops from all over Vancouver Island and the rest of B.C. and everything has come in earlier than usual.

Crops coming in early isn’t the only issue, said Dhaliwal.

A dry, hot summer with no rain can mean that keeping crops well watered is an impossible task. Fortunately, Dhaliwal’s farm borders Cox Lake

“These are irrigation pipes all the way down to [the lake],” he said.

“I have a pump there. I was lucky I have water here so I water every second day,” he said.

But while Dhaliwal is lucky that he has the lake, he worries about how low it is.

“This is low,” he said.

“It’s worrying. This winter there was no snow. On Arrowsmith, there’s nothing.”

He worries about what will happen if this is the new normal.

“Last year we had not very much snow and this year even less,” said Dhaliwal.

The hot dry weather has had a negative impact on some crops, according to Naesgaard.

“Some things were tougher to grow than others, like the ones that are shallow crops, because it was so hot,” he said,




“Beets or dillweed… we had difficulty with dillweed. It was a little tougher on those kinds of things.”

Back at his blueberry farm, Dhaliwal wonders about how much worse it will get.

“If we don’t get any snow next year… who knows.”

Alberni Valley News