June 16, 2013

Strawberry harvest looks promising as growers prepare for pick-your-own crowds

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

With pick-your-own strawberry season starting soon, farmers in the area say this year's harvest looks promising.

click image to enlarge

Alice Berry inspects a strawberry Sunday in a row she cultivated at the Stevenson's Strawberry Farm in Wayne. Farmer Ford Stevenson said he is expecting a healthy crop this season.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Strawberry farmer Ford Stevenson at his Wayne patch on Sunday.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

At Stevenson's Strawberries in Wayne, only some of the strawberries have turned red so far. Most match the green vines, difficult to spot out without walking the straw-covered paths between the rows of plants.

Soon, patrons with greenish pint-sized cartons will be fanning out in the 16 acres to pick the berries, crouching on hands and knees.

Owner Ford Stevenson said he's looking forward to a plentiful season, especially after last year, which he said was cut short.

Unusually warm temperatures last spring started the strawberry season early, he said. "But that's farming for you. We live and die by the weather."

Stevenson expects to open in a week or so.

At a smaller operation, Ben Marcus of Uncas Farms and Sheepscot General Store in Whitefield, said the store already has had a lot of calls about strawberries.

Marcus thinks part of the demand for the business's certified organic strawberries can be attributed to the strawberry being listed on the Environmental Working Group's annual "Dirty Dozen" list of food with the most pesticide residue.

The Whitefield farm's crop looks promising thanks to an early, warm spring, he said.

"The rows were just white blossoms. There's a lot of fruit of up there," Marcus said. "I think it's just a good fruit year all around."

Picking at Uncas Farms' 1-acre field probably will be open in a week to 10 days, he said.

Maine's strawberry season usually goes from the end of June to near the middle of July.

Marcus said the farm had a fine season last year, its first with strawberries.

Eric Seaman, of Seaman's Berry Farm in Litchfield, said his crop also blossomed well.

He expects to open the 4 acres of fields in the middle or at the end of this week.

"It might be a quite plentiful crop, but there's a lot of conditions that go into that," Seaman said.

The weather in the next three weeks will make the determination of how plentiful the harvest will be, he said.

"What we're looking for is sunny, dry weather with periodic rain," Seaman said. "Those would be the most ideal. We don't want it extremely hot."

In Wayne, Stevenson said changes in weather can cause production to fluctuate 50 to 60 percent up or down.

Weather also can affect the picking business during the season. Warmer weather usually means more people wanting to come out and pick berries, Stevenson said, while steady rain will cause the farm to close for the day.

"The weather's huge in this business, as it is in a lot of businesses," he said, "but you have to roll with it."

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

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