Ray and Rob Galey stand in their Galey Farms pumpkin patch. Hot weather led to complications that kept the great orange gourds to about 80 per cent of what is usually harvest. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Hot weather leads to Saanich pumpkin shortage

Both Galey and Michell farms report failing crops of pumpkins

Climate change has Saanich farmer Rob Galey rethinking how he’ll grow pumpkins next year.

The traditional growing method is to give the pumpkin patch – Galey Farms grew 13 acres of them this year – three watering sessions per year. Normally, Mother Nature does the rest. But as Galey has learned, Mother Nature’s not acting like she used to.

“We’re lucky we increased our crops to 13 acres of pumpkins from 10 acres, because we are down about 20 per cent in pumpkins,” Galey said.

With warmer, dryer summers becoming a regular occurrence, Galey has had to rethink how to store 40,000 pumpkins, which ripened far earlier than they used to in the drought of 2015. With school tours booked to take away about 10,000, and more going to wholesale, it’s imperative the pumpkins can be kept in cool, dry place.

Now, after another dry summer and a new problem popping up, he’s rethinking how to grow them.

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“Without any rainfall we had to water the pumpkins a fourth time, and that set off a major crop of weeds in the [pumpkin patch],” Galey said.

Pigweed four-feet-high tangled among dense clumps of lamb’s quarters blocked out the sun on the leaves, stunting the growth of the pumpkins.

“We couldn’t go in and weed-eat or we would have knocked the flowers and fruit off the plants,” Galey said.

The same thing has taken place up the road at the Michell Bros. farm in Central Saanich, who do about 20 acres of pumpkins.

“Anything that didn’t get enough water is down 10 to 15 per cent,” Terry Michell said.

Costs are increasing, said Galey and Michell, though Galey will keep the same price scheme. The Michells are considering a five per cent increase.

“The price of everything is up, water and fertilizer, and we used more water [due to the water],” Michell said.

Both farms inventory the pumpkins in 850-pound bins. For Michell’s, most of that goes to wholesale such as Fairway Market, Red Barn and Country Grocer.

Both farms are popular U-pick destinations, with Galey’s known for it’s Pumpkinfest with train rides, haunted houses, corn maze and petting zoo.

It’s not all bad news with the pumpkins, Galey said, as the shells are stronger than usual.

“Last year they all went mushy but not this year,” Galey said. “You can buy your pumpkin early just keep it in the garage or basement, away from frost.”

reporter@saanichnews.com