What are some of the tasty treats people look forward to most during the summer months? Safe to say, folks just love their berries!
Summerberry Estate Farm, owned and operated by Jason and Analese Whitehead, in Cowichan Station is definitely ripe for picking this year with beautiful raspberries and blueberry crops on hand to tempt even the most reluctant berry picker.
With a red seal certification in horticulture and a degree in landscape architecture, Jason is no stranger to planning, planting and growing. And yet, Jason says with a laugh, it’s all about experimentation. Despite a relaxed attitude about their crops, the Whiteheads know their stuff.
Their large multi-row raspberry patch is full of the lucious summer bearing Boyne variety. Their quarter acre blueberry patch contains just shy of 1000 blueberry plants, planted 5 years ago. The patch is made up of 14 different varieties that ripen at different times. This allows them to extend the harvest as well as test which varieties perform best on their farm soil. It’s also about finding which varieties are most marketable.
At South Island Saskatoons, they do their best to avoid pesticide use – in fact they haven’t since their first year on the farm. They do use a fungicide in mid-April, since Saskatoon berries are particularly susceptible to rot in ‘Wet Coast’ climate, but only once and well before any berries appear. They also use drip irrigation on the trees, which Sharon says helps the berries fill out nicely.
One of the orchard’s biggest challenges is the cost of automation. Currently all berries at South Island Saskatoons are hand-sorted, which can be very time consuming. Unfortunately says Sharon, the automatic sorters on the market are very cost prohibitive unless you are a “big guy”.
Analese explains that the commercial blueberries like Duke and Bluecrop do well because customers are familiar with them and know what to expect. Some of the lesser known varieties require more marketing. Northland berries for example, says Analese, are smaller in size which makes them perfect for muffins and pancakes, a definite bonus for folks who bake with berries.
Summerberry Estate sells their berries by word of mouth via their farm gate. 2014 marks their first foray into the u-pick business. Again, an experiment! For the last two years they have sold out of their blueberries. Any raspberries they don’t sell fresh are frozen and available throughout the year.
As I leave the farm with two gorgeous flats of raspberries, I ask about the farm expanding. Analese points to a large hay field. Their goal is to expand into strawberries. With two young children and Jason working full-time off the farm, they have their hands full. But, with their relaxed attitude and a bevy of berry seekers about to discover this lovely farm, they are sure to find sweet success.
Summerberry Estate asks that folks call to make an appointment for u-pick or before visiting their farm gate. They also take pre-orders well in advance. Seasonal berries are available up to the end of August.
Summerberry Estate is located at 2040 Wilmot Rd, Cowichan Station