North Saanich’s Arbutus Grove Nursery keeps on growing

Tour of Industry: Third in a series of articles on Saanich Peninsula businesses.

Tour of Industry participants are shown Arbutus Grove’s cold storage area, where seedlings are kept before transport.

Tour of Industry participants are shown Arbutus Grove’s cold storage area, where seedlings are kept before transport.

There were 12 million clones produced on the Saanich Peninsula last year and they were all sent to Haida Gwaii.

Ok, don’t be alarmed. Those were tree seedlings, that originated as cuttings from similar cedar hedges and grown for replanting purposes at North Saanich’s Arbutus Grover Nursery — the third stop on the 2017 Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Tour of Industry.

Nursery manager Nathaniel Stoffelsma explained that they receive yellow cedar cuttings from growers who have hired them to produce seedlings for replacing in various forestry operations in B.C. It’s a business Arbutus Grove has been in since 1979 — which led to their first crop of 200,000 seedlings in 1981. Today, the 25-acre nursery grows between 10 and 12 million seedlings each year.

Yellow cedar is the focus, he said, as it’s a hardy species, with a genetic diversity that ensures good growth.

The initial cuttings are delivered by clients and a team of nursery workers trim them down into bundles — 50 cuttings per bundle, up to 60,000 bundles per year, or approximately 17 million cuttings. Those bundles are then sent to the nursery’s rooting system. They are inserted into growing pods and then transferred into greenhouses on site, where they are kept in specific temperature and soil conditions for a year and allowed to grow.

During that time, they will be transferred between greenhouses until they are ready to be stored and shipped to their clients for planting in the wild.

The tour was allowed to visit the nursery’s cold storage area, where boxes of seedlings are kept before transport. Arbutus Grove last month completed its most recent harvest and has been preparing for next year’s crop to go in.

“Our core business is growing trees,” Stoffelsma said. “The clients provide the initial cuttings and we fill their orders.”

He said they have seen business grow year over year since the family-owned nursery started (it was started by Hans and Susan Stoffelsma who had five acres in 1979).  There was a bit of a dip in 2007, when the economy as a whole was taking a hit, but Stoffelsma said it has rebounded well. There’s also room to grow, he continued, as the Province of B.C. looks to replace trees in parts of the province hit hard by the pine beetle infestation.

As they mostly serve private companies in B.C., branching out to a pubic sector contract would mean added business. He estimates that around 25 per cent of their overall business goes to customers in the U.S.

With an annual payroll of around $1 million, Arbutus Grove Nursery employs 12 people full time, with up to 70 during their peak season. Starting workers are generally paid around $12 per hour, going up from there.

Stoffelsma said North Saanich has a good, temperate climate for growing trees and is situated close to the ferries, allowing for a convenient way to transport their product off-Island.

Still, he pointed out that housing costs still present a barrier to some employees. As well, he added urbanization around them can be an issue between the long-standing nursery and new neighbours.


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On Friday: The Tour of Industry gets a look at the Butler Brothers gravel pit and concrete operation in Central Saanich.

Peninsula News Review