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Weather woes for local growers

Everybody has been complaining about the cold, wet weather this spring but those in the agricultural industry have been buzzing about bees - or, rather, the lack of them.

Everybody has been complaining about the cold, wet weather this spring but those in the agricultural industry have been buzzing about bees - or, rather, the lack of them.

The frigid spring has been toughest on the hard-working pollinator and backyard orchardists and berry growers alike are worried berry and fruit production will be down as a result.

"The pollinators will be affected because they won't come out in the cold to work," explained Karam Dhanwant, owner of Ankar Farms in Port Coquitlam, who expects to see fewer blueberries this year on his 12 acres while the strawberries he grows on a farm in Richmond will likely be late because of the delayed growing season.

More sunny breaks will bring out a few honey bees but the pollinating season for berries is almost over and he's not optimistic.

"Overall, I guess production will be lower, not a bumper year, as it looks now," Dhanwant said.

Non-stinging mason bees that live in tiny tubes drilled into cedar bee houses and pollinate local fruit trees have also been staying indoors, said Port Coquitlam resident and mason bee enthusiast Pasquale Gnocato.

"This year, most of them came out at the beginning of May; they were two weeks later and they did coincide with the blooming of the apple and the cherry. But with the rain never stopping, they couldn't work and, by June 1, that's it, all activity practically stops," Gnocato said.

A few stragglers were still visible during a sunny break this week, but he said about 90% were dead.

Mason bees are supposed to gather pollen for their eggs in April, when fruit blossoms are at their height and temperatures are 14 C or higher. But this year's cool temperatures kept them indoors, Gnocato said, so they didn't gather as much pollen and he thinks he'll only have 3,500 bees - compared to 9,500 two years ago - and fewer pears, apples and cherries.

The cold planting season is also expected to delay some vegetable production but the Port Coquitlam Farmers Market is still seeing a good turnout of vendors and customers, said manager Eileen Dwillies.

Growers still have perennial plants on hand and vegetables that grow above ground or in greenhouses are ready to eat.

"A lot of the farmers have learned over the past five years they have to have some kind of green house or a cloche - a plastic tunnel put over the strawberries that protects from the rain and gives warmth," Dwillies said.

About 24 vendors show up each week at the market, which runs Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. at Leigh Square in Port Coquitlam and 80% of what's offered is food, including prepared foods, cheeses and pizza.

As well, the Coquitlam Farmers Market, another popular spot for people shopping for fresh produce, runs every Sunday through the end of October at Dogwood Pavilion.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com