Island Grown: Olive trees abound on Salt Spring, B.C.'s own Mediterranean
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2018 3:55PM PDT Last Updated Wednesday, May 30, 2018 6:48PM PDT
When you think about growing crops in Canada, the last things you may think of are palm trees and olives. But on Salt Spring Island, both are plentiful. Some of the island’s residents are taking advantage of the temperate climate and growing plants not seen anywhere else in Canada.
Six years ago, George and Sheri Braun planted 987 olive trees on the slopes of Salt Spring’s Fulford Valley. They made the decision to grow olives after falling in love with them on a drive around the Spanish countryside.
"Everything was new and everything had to be learned as we went,” said Sheri, recounting their beginnings.
"It's a great little spot to grow things that are just beyond where they should be,” said George.
Since then they’ve planted 1500 more trees with a 95 per cent success rate.
Two years ago, the couple’s friends and family helped with their first harvest in late November. Each tree produced about a pound of olives; all of them were handpicked. With that harvest, the Braun’s marked a Canadian first, bottling 100 per cent Canadian extra virgin olive oil.
"We've had great reviews from the restaurants we've sold to, they loved it," said George.
Sheri describes the product as a finishing oil.
“It’s very rich, it’s very dark and has a very robust flavour.”
The Braun’s are planning to plant another 700 to 800 olive trees.
“And I think at that stage we’re going to cool our heels and play with what we’ve got,” said George.
Further north on the island, different kinds of exotic plants grow. On “Banana” Joe Clemente’s property you can find eucalyptus, ferns, cactus, bamboo, palm trees and even bananas. They’re not the big yellow ones you’re used to, these ones are much smaller and green.
“It’s hard to believe that they can survive in this climate but they do,” said Clemente. “I wanted to create a jungle here.”
Clemente first started growing his exotic plants on the lower mainland. But after the first winter, the flora struggled to survive. He then decided to move to Salt Spring where the climate is more temperate.
“It’s really mild, we barely get any frost,” said Clemente. “I think forest fires worry me more than anything.”
That doesn’t mean that growing on the island is perfect though.
“The climate’s not really the challenge, it’s the dryness of the summertime,” said Clemente.
He also has to worry about wandering deer feasting on his gigantic garden and poor rocky soil means that his plants can’t grow as tall or as fast as they should.
After 25 years of planting on Salt Spring, Banana Joe is still looking for space to put new plants. He also has some advice for amateur botanists.
“Do your homework, find out what your minimum temperatures are and your climatic rolling zone and yeah try and push the envelope. It’s fun! It’s a good way to garden.“
Part one of a three-part series. Tomorrow in part two of Island Grown, CTV's Amber Schinkel takes a look at a vineyard of a different kind in the Cowichan Valley.