Raring to grow

Similkameen Valley springs into growing season. Warm weather at least three weeks early.


“This is nuts. This is really nuts,” Chris Mathieson, operator of the Grist Mill and Gardens exclaimed while talking about the unseasonably warm temperatures and the impact on all things growing at his site and the rest of the Similkameen Valley.

On a quick walk about the grounds a variety of young yellow and purple crocuses were spotted. A few purple pansies were showing their colours along the walkway and tulips will surely be poking through anytime now.

“Things are really early this year. There’s lots of things that are about to burst on the site,” he said.

That’s good news for Mathieson and his crew who plan on growing a few new and old vegetables this year.

After some searching, Mathieson was able to secure fresh Zucca seeds from a farmer in Illinois. Zucca’s are the world’s largest gourd weighing in between 60 to 100 pounds each. The flesh of the Zucca is colourless and tasteless so it’s often used to stretch other foods including jam. Between the 1930s and 1950s the gourd was considered a commercial crop in the valley. But it’s popularity waned.

“It hasn’t been grown here for quite awhile,” Mathieson said. “I tried, but the seeds were so inbred that we were only able to grow really small ones. That’s why it’s great we were able to track down some new seeds so we can bring the Zucca back to the valley.”

Mathieson is also planning on growing Mangel Beets.

“These are giant beets. They grow to two-feet long,” he said.

Walking Stick Cabbage is another new/old crop the Grist Mill is going to try to grow.

“It’s kind of like a little tree. At the end there’s a stick and people make walking sticks out of it,” he said.

The Grist Mill is of course going to grow some traditional produce.

Right now inside the tea room there’s a variety of onions, beets, spinach and broccoli sprouts rapidly growing under heating lights.

David Jones, meteorologist for Environment Canada said it won’t be long before Mathieson and the rest of the growers in the Similkameen Valley will be able to put their crops in the ground.

Because it’s an El Nino year he said he can predict with confidence that average temperatures will be 2 C higher than previous years.

“On average everywhere is at least a few weeks ahead as things start to warm up. It’s going to carry on with milder temperatures,” he said.

Jones could not say how the summer might turn out as far as predicted precipitation, but did say snow pack levels for this time of year are about average.

He used real-time data collected from Black Wall Peak in Manning Park to compare the current snow pack to previous years.

Although he couldn’t provide measurements up at the peak he said a real-time graph showed that the pack was comparative to historical data.

He also checked several other real-time stations in the Interior.

“For all intensive purposes it’s (surrounding snow pack) is above average or near normal,” he said.

Only time will tell how the growing season will fare, but most will be happy right now that the grips of winter have been loosened a little earlier than normal.