Island Grown: Vineyards and orchards of a different sort thrive in Cowichan Valley
It’s one of the richest agricultural regions on Vancouver Island and on both the very northern and southern ends of the Cowichan Valley, a vineyard and an orchard of unique varieties are thriving.
“Vancouver Island is paradise,” said Evelyn Pereira of Terra Nossa Organic Farm. “We just want to try everything.”
Since moving to their Mill Bay farm more than a decade ago, there is very little Evelyn and her husband Jesse haven’t attempted to grow.
From blackberries and cherries to asparagus and tomatoes, the temperate climate has allowed them to experiment with a wide range of produce. They also raise poultry, lamb, and pork.
While they’ve had successes, they’ve also had a couple failures, including gogi berries and the expensive and rare perigord truffle.
“We have not been successful in harvesting truffles,” said Pereira.
But their efforts haven’t gone totally to waste. The truffles have a symbiotic relationship with hazelnut trees, so the Pereiras planted 400 of the them. For the past two years they have had successful hazelnut harvests. The trees are pruned in early winter, are fertilized with compost from the farm, and start to produce hazelnuts in August. The only issue, the local grey squirrels have developed a taste for the nut.
“We say one for us, ten for the squirrels,” laughed Pereira. “It’s a battle, it’s a real battle.”
The squirrels are also drawn to the farm’s walnut trees, but leave the chestnut’s alone because of their prickly outer layer, which Jesse is thankful for. The chestnut is his favourite variety of nut tree and he regrets not planting more of them.
“There’s nothing better than a chestnut,” he said.
Unless, your crop of choice happens to be kiwi fruit, which is what Peggy Kolosoff of the Kiwi Cove Lodge near Ladysmith has been growing since 1997.
“I really do enjoy them,” said Kolosoff. “I feel they have a lot of character.”
The lodge and the kiwi vineyard is tucked into the most northern tip of Ladysmith harbour. More than 130 kiwi vines grow on less than an acre and are supported by a large trellis. When guests arrive at the lodge, they’re often taken aback by the fruit.
“I always reassure them that Canadians can grow kiwis too,” said Kolosoff. Several different types of kiwis are on the vines here. Most people are familiar with the Hayward variety, often seen in grocery stores, but the Arguta is a little more rare.
“You can pick it and eat it like a grape,” said Kolosoff. “There’s no fussing with the fuzz.”
In June the vines flower and by the end of July fruit has formed on the tree, but they won’t actually be ready to pick until late fall. The Arguta ripen on the vine in the month of October, while the Hayward are picked just before the threat of frost and ripen in cool, dry storage.
“We start eating them in about January and then till supplies last,” said Kolosoff, laughing.
The vines are fertilized once a year and are irrigated through the hot, dry summer. Only female kiwis produce fruit, but male vines are located throughout the vineyard and are pollinated by bees.
As much as she adores kiwis, the real treat for Peggy is being able to share them with her guests, which is what the Pereira’s are working toward. This summer they will open their farm as a vegetable U-pick and they’d like to become an agri-tourism destination, with a focus on education.
“I think a lot of children have never had the opportunity to pick a cob of corn, to pick a pea and open that pod and taste those peas,” said Pereira.
Part two of a three-part series. Tomorrow, CTV's Amber Schinkel introduces us to a pioneer in island citrus.