Rob Galey has found a revolutionary way to grow to his strawberries.
He is using drip irrigation, plastic mulch and wind tunnels. The new system has taken him years to develop and has increased production, reduced the water bill and keeps the Canada geese and deer away.
“We are having earlier production and the strawberries came two weeks earlier this year,” Galey said.
He is also increasing yields this year with the 150,000 strawberry plants at the Blenkinsop Valley farm in Saanich. “I think this will really pay for itself if I can extend the strawberry season until October or November.”
The most obvious addition, at least for outsiders, is the five wind tunnels the Galeys purchased in Pennsylvania, drove back on a B-train truck to the farm and installed in March.
Together, the tunnels span 70,000 square feet and are designed to filter out UV rays, capture the wind and stop geese and deer from destroying the crops.
“The tunnels run from north to south and they help accelerate the wind flow. My leaves are always moving and they are always dry. You don’t want stagnant air around the leaves.”
Within the tunnels, Galey has installed drip irrigation – replacing traditional sprinklers – which cut water costs by 50 per cent which the Saanich farmer anticipates will become 80 per cent.
As part of the irrigation system, soil is covered with a sheet of plastic and mulch and the plants grow through holes. The plastic has multiple purposes – it keeps the water from evaporating and separated from the berries and the leaves.
“This is a high-efficiency water system that get the water directly to the root system,” Galey said. “We have not had any fungus. The moisture is what causes the mould and fungus.”
The plastic also helps keep the soil warm in the evening and cooler during the day. Weeds are unable to grow under the plastic and berries stay clean as they are not hanging in the dirt.
“All the weeds are gone and paying for weeding is a huge cost,” said the third generation farmer. “Weeding is also a (job) nobody wants. We could not find enough labour for weeding.”
For the past five years the farm has been operating on municipal water after the farm’s pond water became too polluted due to the Canada geese that permanently call the farm home.
“With all the geese in the watershed the quality was not as safe as before,” Galey said.
A vivid memory of Galey is being called out to the field by his grandfather when he was 10.
“There were two Canada geese in the field and we were excited. We’d never see one before,” Galey. “Now they never leave the farm.”
Last December the Galeys downsized its 150 acre crop production by 25 acres due to damage from deer and geese. It’s a problem that remains, but the wind tunnels should at least provide defence for the strawberries.
“Our losses last year (due to Canada Geese) were devastating.”