Wild Bee Florals takes root in Comox Valley despite climate-change adversity

Wild Bee Florals takes root in Comox Valley despite climate-change adversity
Photo by True Rosie Brix
Aaron Brown, left, and Thanushi Eagalle from Wild Bee Florals.

Thanushi Eagalle, owner of Wild Bee Florals in Dove Creek, has always turned to gardening for relaxation during tough times.

Now that flower farming has turned into a full time job, it may not be as relaxing, but she has felt rewarded.

“It’s been really fulfilling, but really challenging as well,” she said.

Wild Bee Florals was established in 2020 with a primary focus on regenerative farming, a type of agriculture that focuses on ecosystem rehabilitation by placing an emphasis on factors such as soil health, water management, crop diversity and sustainable fertilizers.

Eagalle takes on the lead growing the flowers and designing the farm’s operations, and her partner Aaron Brown takes care of the infrastructure.

“There has been a lot of sweat equity that’s gone into it,” she said.

Eagalle finds flower farming interesting because it blends well with her science background. She has a master’s degree in evolutionary biology.

“Every year it’s like a different experiment,” she said. “There’s a bit of excitement that goes into both the biology and chemistry side of things when you try to be as productive as you can in small spaces.”

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Wild Bee Florals makes use of their 0.6-acre farm by growing upwards of 70 different varieties. They offer flowers for all occasions, including packages for weddings and special events. The company also offers flower subscriptions, you-pick events and workshops.

Unpredictable climate

Eagalle has noticed the weather becoming difficult to predict over the last few years. She’s not alone in this.

“Farmers talk to each other,” she said, sharing that many others also noticed unpredictable weather on their farms.

Strange weather patterns such as heavy flooding and heat waves are making life difficult for farmers across the globe. Since Canada is warming faster than the global average, the extremes throughout the country are exacerbated.

Wild Bee Floral’s cool weather crops had a difficult time getting going this past year, due to a lack of rainfall in the summer.

“Even with drip irrigation, it doesn’t fulfill the impacts of good rains, where the soil is drenched and all the roots are getting the nutrients they want,” she said, adding that the crops look more stunted than previous years.

“It’s definitely water,” she said. She did soil tests to make sure it wasn’t a soil deficiency, but found that the soil is healthy.

In August, the farm found itself running out of water, which posed more issues for the flowers and future planting plans. Wild Bee Florals is among the many farms that need to plan their planting a year in advance, meaning unpredictable weather conditions make it very difficult to plan for future crops.

“Water is the life force of the farm,” she said.

“How do you address a situation like this, where you run out of water four-to-six weeks before you thought you would?”

Last year, CTV News shared the story of an Abbotsford farmer who had never experienced weather patterns such as this in October. The farmer shared similar struggles to Eagalle’s about how difficult it can be to predict what to plant and how to plan future weather events, since they’re seemingly so random and not consistent with historical records.

Wild Bee Florals faced a different situation in the 2021 fall season, where it didn’t stop raining. Their cool crops did well, but their warmer crops struggled. The back and forth of extreme weather events made it difficult to plan for the future. Eagalle said she didn’t know what to invest in during the fall season to improve the next year’s outcomes.

Uncommon weather, but common for farmers right now

Hans Schreier, professor emeritus of Land and Water Systems at UBC, confirmed that this unpredictable weather for farmers will continue.

“We’re in a very uncertain time as far as climate is concerned, because we are getting all of these extremes at both ends,” he said.

These extremes are interconnected, Schreier said. When ocean temperatures increase, it means more moisture in the air, which means more flooding. Heat waves and fires are also connected because B.C. summers are more dry and hot.

What Eagalle is seeing on her farm is consistent with the trends that Schreier has seen on the farms he’s looked at on the Lower Mainland as well, he told The Discourse. The trend clearly shows declining summer precipitation.

He said that intensive agriculture — bigger farms than Eagalle’s that focus on monoculture and mass production — diminishes the carbon content in the soil. Carbon content is a good way to store water in the soil to prevent it from drying out. When the demand for irrigation increases, it puts more pressure on watersheds.

“The summer temperatures are really in trouble. That’s when the demand is higher,” he said.

Current climate change mitigation efforts often fail to account for the system as a whole, and instead focus on one specific issue, Schreier said.

“Monoculture is really bad for everything, particularly for the soil,” he said. “Agro-biodiversity is really the thing we need to focus on.”

Looking for solutions

For small farms such as Eagalle’s, regenerative farming techniques such as cover crops can help with moisture retention in soil, Schreier said. Cover crops are used for the purpose of soil enrichment, as opposed to the intention of harvesting.

“And so the farmers now need to start thinking about changing their cropping pattern, and bring in more diversity, because that’s one way to actually help,” he said.

Something that both Schreier and Eagalle mentioned was a need for more efficient ways to manage water.

Eagalle underlined the importance of investing in water catchment, such as by installing cisterns or surface level ponds. She shared that farming is all about figuring out where to expend your energy — including the farmers’ labour and the resources of the farm itself.

“I think taking care of yourself … is really important in [terms of] being able to tackle climate change, and being able to have a clear mind to come at problems strategically,” she said

Eagalle is working on experimenting with bee lawns in her pathways. Bee lawns are alternatives to traditional lawns. They contain pollinators so that the bees and other insects can feed.

“One of my favourite things is walking through the flower rows early in the morning and noticing so many bees asleep in the dahlias and cosmos,” said Eagalle.

Schreier also underlined the importance of planting pollinators and a diversity of plants, and that planting flowers is a “classic example,” to help agro biodiversity.


The need to build more trust

The province of British Columbia has launched a recent program called to support local farmers, and stated in a news release on Oct. 5 that the program will focus on research, knowledge transfer and new technologies. Funding for the program is both provincial and federal.

Eagalle said while these kinds of programs can be helpful, often farmers have a lot more immediate challenges and are often too preoccupied to jump through the governmental barriers, or have other immediate barriers that cause a lack of access to programs such as these.

“I would say there is confusion and lack of trust,” she said, touching on to past instances of local governments shutting down water systems for farmers.

Some farmers have shared that the restrictions affect them in a disproportionate manner, especially in comparison to other businesses that use large amounts of water.

“That’s where trust breaks down, where it’s like, you’re not actually trying to help us like you want us to conform to a system that doesn’t that doesn’t come naturally to us, or, or where there’s been opportunities where farmers have given a lot of feedback about certain processes, and then nothing happens.”

She also shared that often farmers don’t have the capacity to maneuver the government supports because of the requirements they need to meet.

“There are a lot of bureaucratic things that get in the way of immediate needs.”

Eagalle said the most important thing people can do to support local farmers is to educate them about the importance of local food. And that it’s important to educate both youth and adults of the importance of local farming.

“Our soil is amazing, you know? It would be so sad if less folks start joining farming endeavors because of how tough it is.”

Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

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