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JUDIE STEEVES Ray and Sonya Barker in one of their farm’s strawberry tunnels. ‘Everything grows better under plastic’


After difficulties with other fruits, they’ve found success with strawberries in poly tunnels.


By Judie Steeves


and berry farm in the Mission area of the Fraser Valley. But, they’re now having good success growing strawberries on raised beds filled with bags of coconut fibre under poly tunnels at Silverhill Orchard. After purchasing the somewhat- isolated property in 1992, they built their home on it, but then Ray got a job in Alberta. They stayed there until 1997, then came back and took early retirement to farm. The idea was to grow apples, so they ordered 3,500 trees in 1997, but they found that the weather was too unpredictable. The Barkers had 54 grafted varieties at first, but while the trees were in the


R


ay and Sonya Barker have become adept at overcoming obstacles on their six-acre fruit


nursery the deer would come in and re- prune them. “There were a dozen in a herd,” notes Ray. “The apples were bushes instead of trees.” So, they built high fences and electrified the top wires to keep the deer out of their small acreage. Next, the bears dug underneath the


fences and broke trees to get at the fruit. They planted 1,800 fruit trees in poly tunnels, including 300 cherry, peach and nectarine, but the next spring the blossoms froze. They then turned their attention to strawberries, beginning with Monterey, an ever-bearing sister to Albion and Diamante. It has a more flexible truss


that doesn’t break as easily. In 2012, they pulled out the apples. Ray imports a special blue poly from


Italy for the tunnels for the strawberries because he is a great believer in light manipulation and red and blue are the most important colours on the light spectrum for growing plants. He favours the Haygrove Solo tunnel because of its stability and uses a 26- foot wide, nine-foot high tunnel that’s 200 feet long. At first, he grew in coconut fibre pots,


but he found it difficult to get good coconut, so now he uses bags of coconut fibre, just laying them down in 36-inch- tall trays on supports, cutting holes in


6 British Columbia Berry Grower • Fall-Winter 2017


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