Langley crops ready to go after early spring

The strawberries are already ripe for the picking in Langley, and a host of other crops will follow sooner than usual.

June is traditionally when strawberries ripen and the commercial and U-pick harvest begins in earnest.

But the warm weather ever since January means the crop is about three weeks early, said Alf Krause, of Langley’s Krause Berry Farm.

The farm started picking last week. Nearby Driediger Farms announced a June 5 opening, and Vista D’Oro Farms and Winery have also held a strawberry-based event.

If those openings don’t seem too early compared to last year, that’s because the 2014 season was two weeks earlier than average, said Krause.

The blessing for local growers is that after some cold snaps in November and January, the weather has been mild.

With growth starting so early, Krause said, frost and cold temperatures in April could have damaged the strawberries. But everything survived.

The early harvests are expected to continue throughout the growing season and affect a wide variety of produce.

“We’re pretty much finished with rhubarb, and this is usually when we start it,” said Lee Murphy of Vista D’Oro.

She expects the farm to be busy continuously from now until the fall.

“Our vineyard is doing things earlier than it every has,” she said.

It’s a plus for their wine operations, which rely on making fruit wines from imported product in the winter. With their own crops ripening, the farm can move on to local produce much sooner.

Meanwhile, the early season does mean some staffing headaches.

“Strawberries, of all the berries, is the most labour intensive,” said Krause.

“We do have a lot of high school kids,” he said.

And those kids are still in class for several weeks.

While there are enough harvesters, the students are already signed up to man the retail side and U-pick operations.

Blueberries are also expected to be early, and Peter Boetzkes of Boetzkes Farm said he shouldn’t have any trouble selling his organic product.

Blueberry production exploded in B.C. several years ago, the result of increased demand as blueberries became a minor health craze for their presumed anti-oxidant properties.

The price hit $1.60 a pound in 2006, but had dropped to 70 cents a pound by 2009.

Provincial government stats showed that blueberry production kept increasing in B.C., from 30,884 tonnes in 2008 to more than 50,000 tonnes in 2013.

Boetzkes said there is still a bit of a glut, but he’s never had a problem selling all of his organic crop.

“There seems to be more of a market for them,” he said.

Selling organic, using U-pick, or setting up wineries, farmgate tours, or retailing pies, jams, and smoothies have become key parts of many local berry farmers’ business models.

Berries are an unpredictable crop, subject to weather and fluctuating international markets, and the amount harvested in B.C. annually has fluctuated wildly over the years.

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