Theresa Lambert, owner of Hilltop Ventures farm, and her dog, Blue, picked a few ripening strawberries on the farm. Lambert expects picking to begin on her farm in the next one to two weeks.
Strawberry season has fallen upon the lakes area. Fields of short, green plants are now dotted with red as the first picking of the season arrives.
Theresa Lambert, part owner of Hilltop Ventures farm in Fifty Lakes, said the first picking is always the most beautiful.
Her farm will open to you-pick in the next week or two. The exact date is dependent on the weather and how quickly the strawberries ripen.
Hilltop Ventures is a 9-acre farm with two separate strawberry fields and numerous other vegetables growing.
Hilltop Ventures has several varieties of strawberries, which ripen at different times of the year. Lambert said last year the farm had berries to pick all the way up to October, though that was rare.
Once the picking season gets rolling, Lambert said the plants are loaded.
"We can have people come out with buckets and they get a quarter of the way down the row and they're full," Lambert said.
At Hilltop Ventures pickers are likely to have a visit from Blue, the Lamberts' strawberry-eating dog. Blue enjoys taking her post between rows and picking the nearest berries for a snack.
She'll even occasionally steal a berry from a picker's bucket.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture stated that berries are ripening early in much of the state. Southern Minnesota berry picking has already begun, in some cases as early as the first week of June.
Though southern Minnesota saw strawberries ripen early, local farms are seeing strawberries mostly on schedule.
JR Duncan, of Borden Farms in Nisswa, said his plants are looking good, better than last year. They're on time for their regular harvest.
Duncan sells plants at early farmers' markets, and among them were strawberry plants from the farm, with ripening green berries attached.
Borden Farms sells strawberries at local farmers' markets and at the farm, off County Road 3 north of Nisswa.
Plants at Wallin's Berry Farm on County Road 18 in Nisswa were also loaded with berries. The first picking at the farm was Monday, June 18.
Strawberry pickers were out in the fields for the first day of picking at Wallin Berry Farm on Monday, June 18. From left are Ellie Otremba, Don Otremba, Ray Sipper and Charlene Sipper.
Calvin Wallin, part owner of the farm, said he expected the farm to be open for picking one to two weeks following opening day.
Wallin said this year might be a bit early, but the crop is mostly on time.
"This is pretty normal," he said. "Last year it was the 29th, two years ago it was the 19th (of June)."
Anywhere from June 18-30 is within the normal berry ripening schedule, he added.
Leroy Janusch is an annual visitor to the farm, and he said the berries are above average this year. He said this is the best crop he's seen at Wallin's in years.
While lots of berries are already red at Wallin's, many are also still green, meaning more berries are on the way.
Wallin had been concerned about the strawberry plants, which had little insulation over the winter because of low snowfall. Additionally, a warm March and cooler April were hard on some of Wallin's other perennial plants. The strawberries, though, did well.
Wallin said that to make berries last, store them in the refrigerator, unwashed so they are stored dry. Washing them just before their used allows berries to stay fresh longer.
They also keep well frozen, and taste great in pies or shortcake, Wallin said.
Lambert prefers her berries in smoothies, or just plain fresh.
She summed it up simply: "They're sweet and juicy and good."
Borden farm market is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Both Hilltop Ventures and Wallin's suggested calling the farms for information on the next picking. Hilltop Ventures can be reached at 218-763-2549 or 218-851-1601; Wallin's can be reached at 218-963-7456.
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