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Open season on strawberries 0

By Clarise Klassen, QMI Agency

Jenna Barnett is busy with her second summer of strawberry picking and sales with Mayfair Farms. Strawberry season is now open. (CLARISE KLASSEN/PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC/QMI AGENCY)

Jenna Barnett is busy with her second summer of strawberry picking and sales with Mayfair Farms. Strawberry season is now open. (CLARISE KLASSEN/PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC/QMI AGENCY)

It's open season on strawberries around Portage la Prairie.

A few berry farms opened to picking last week, but the largest farm, Connery's Berry Farm, officially opened Monday morning.

“Today is our first official day. We had a Facebook sneak peak (Sunday),” said manager Sam Connery on Monday. “The berries are nice and big. They're gorgeous this year.”

Connery added that pickers hit the ground running Monday on Connery's 24 acres of berries, found along Highway 331, east of Highway 240.

“We were quite busy this morning. We have a third of our fields open right now for picking because we have that many customers, so that's great .… It's nice to see that many people out especially on a Monday morning.”

Ivan Hofer, co-owner of Patten Acres, agreed pickers have been enthusiastic.

“People are eager to get going,” said Hofer, adding Pattens' first day of picking was July 3.

The farm, located east of Portage la Prairie on Highway 1, produces 12 acres of strawberries.

Hofer said he is optimistic about this strawberry season.

“The variables in the temperature will determine if it's going to be a short season or a long season, but we're hoping it will all work out,” Hofer said. “I like to have my glass always half full rather than half empty, so I'm anticipating a good one.”

He anticipates the season could last about three weeks.

“I think we will do well if we do three weeks, but then again I have been surprised before and we could do four.”

Greg Makarchuk, co-owner of Makarchuk Strawberries located 8 km east of Highway 240 on Highway 331, is anticipating a good season, definitely better than the brevity of the 2012 season.

“They look really good, lots of leaves, the berries are starting to turn red, they look like they're a good size,” said Makarchuk.

He added that there was no frost damage this spring on his four acres of strawberries compared with last year and the plants look very healthy.

“Those rains this spring, those last few inches of rain we had really made them grow, but it really needs to cool down,” Makarchuk said.

“We were two weeks late in taking off the straw because of the snow, but the plants seem to have caught up. We're only a week later starting,” he observed, adding last year his strawberry farm was open for u-pick and pre-picked on June 29, and done by June 10. This year, picking began on July 3, with full picking underway on Monday.

Todd Giffin added that the 18 acres of strawberries at Mayfair Farms on the Island also benefited from a cooler and later spring.

“(We have) lots of berries and because of the later season, the king berries didn't get touched by frost like they can in other years .… Cooler springs usually make for better berries, so that's what we're seeing here so far,” the farm co-owner said, who hopes for the weather to remain in the low to mid-20s.

“If everything co-operates, it should be a really good berry season,” he said.

Picking at Mayfair started July 3.

“Berry customers are quite eager most years, but it seems like this year is expectional because maybe the short season last year,” he said, adding the phones have been ringing with inquiries.

Connery said it was good to see her fields so busy Monday, mostly with retirees and people off from shift work.

“A lot of the older generations come on weekdays and come really early, because they know to beat the heat,” she said. “Lots of people have baking projects that they do or jam. I know lots of folks who freeze strawberries for smoothies or whatever they really like baking.”

She said it doesn't take long for someone to fill a basket with berries during the peak of the season, which should happen later this week.

“Right now, it takes 10-15 minutes for a basket. We find that once we get into prime picking, it's usually just 5-10 minutes. Depending on the person, they can really get a lot done in no time at all,” she said.

“There's some very excited people out there about berries which is great, because I think strawberries are awesome, they're tasty, they're good for you. They're a great snack option, you can do so many things with them. If you want a healthy snack or if you want something more dessert like.

“I tend to eat them lots in smoothies and for breakfast. It's a good way to get started in the morning.”

For more information on strawberries and other commercially grown fruit, check out www.pfga.com.

clarise.klassen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@PDGclarisek

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