Erratic weather affects area strawberry crops

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Sunday, June 10, 2012
— “Big one!” shouted excited 4-year-old Vivienne Frenz to her dad as she held up a bright red strawberry she had just picked Saturday morning in the field at Skelly’s Farm Market, 2713 Hayner Road.

“Whoa!” said Konrad Frenz, who told her to drop it in the cardboard box they were trying to fill with the season’s fresh fruit.

“Good job. You’re a good helper,” he said, complimenting his daughter, who was accompanying him and his wife, Caterina, on their Saturday morning family outing.

The Delavan family got up early and stopped to eat some breakfast before making the short trip to rural Janesville.

Konrad said he hadn’t picked berries for 30 years but saw it as a nice opportunity to spend quality family time together, and to eat some local produce, after learning about the pick-your-own berries offering.

“It’s a perfect way to spend a gorgeous summer day. They’re plentiful,’’ he said of the berries they will eat fresh.

“We use them just for eating, don’t make anything special like pies, and will put them on some ice cream,’’ Konrad said. “They’re sweet and juicy.”

“Yummy” is how Vivienne described the flavor after taking a big bite out of a berry she had just picked.

But the weather this spring as been tough on the berries, with temperature swings from extreme highs to overnight lows mixed with rain and drought, according to Skelly’s Farm Market website.

“We’re still getting our crop, it’s just the plants are under so much stress they’re not able to produce the size or quantity we’ve sometimes had,” Scott Skelly said.

Although Skelly’s has fewer berries and some are smaller than in years past, “the ones we have are still nice and some of our best tasting—most flavorful—berries ever,” he said.

“We’re just thankful it’s not a complete crop failure,” Scott said.

But Bower’s Produce in East Troy, Walworth County wasn’t so lucky.

Vicky Bower described this season as a “disaster.”

“We’re not selling them ’cause they’re way too tiny. It got too cold and they froze. Then we didn’t get any rain,’’ she said.

Hazeltine’s Century Farm, on Highway 11 West, Janesville, summed up its current condition of berry picking on its website as “probably the best of the season on Saturday and possibly Sunday as the warm weather is ripening our later fields.”

The website also noted that the size of the berries varies from field to field and that the smaller berries were the best tasting.

This strawberry season began almost three weeks early—and the earliest ever since the Skelly’s began raising strawberries in 2003, said Tom Skelly.

And since the season began early, it also will end early.

“The season is already over halfway finished,” Hazeltine’s website said.

On Saturday, Skelly’s had only pick-your-own available with no pre-picked berries available at its market, stands or farmers market.

“We hope to have some pre-picked again Sunday, when we begin picking some of our late season berries,’’ Scott said.

Hazeltine’s plans to have pre-picked berries available on a first-come, first-serve basis but is not taking any more preorders at the moment, its website said Saturday.

Meanwhile, under the cool morning breeze and bright sunny skies, about two dozen people picked berries at Skelly’s.

Among them were Robert and Stacey Marenda of Janesville.

“These are just gorgeous,” Robert said as he held up a handful of berries he had just picked.

Rows away, four generations of the Jeannette Stephenson family of Janesville were picking berries.

“We pick every year,” said Sandy Christen, of the family tradition. “We generally make jam,’’ Jeannette said.

“The boys come every year,” Christen said, “and like doing it. It’s fun!”

Last updated: 8:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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