April 22, 2018
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Farmers: Late-blooming berries doing OK

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — Frost and freezing weather have taken their toll on some strawberry fields in Maine, but later-blooming varieties are doing very well, berry farmers reported this week.

Some pick-your-own farms — such as Chipman Farm in Minot — already are open for limited picking, and most are expected to open next week.

“This has been an odd year,” David Handley, small-fruit and vegetable specialist at the University of Maine’s Highmoor Farm, said Wednesday. “But I’ve been doing this 27 years, and I’m still waiting for a normal year.”

Unseasonably high temperatures brought an early spring to Maine this year, but just when berries, apples and other fruits had begun to open their blossoms in mid-May — a solid three weeks early in many cases — a three-day freeze shot across the southern and western sections of the state.

Finemore’s Strawberry Farm in Bowdoin reported losing most of its crop during the freeze.

Elaine Goodwin at Goodwin Farms in West Gardiner said the freeze took 99 percent of her crop.

Nancy Bunting at Dole’s Orchards in Limington said one-quarter of her apples were destroyed, and all of her early-blooming berries froze.

“But the peaches and plums are fine, and now that the late-blooming strawberries are arriving, we have a great crop,” she said.

Ford Stevenson of Stevenson’s Strawberry Farm in Wayne spent 11 hours through the night of May 10 irrigating his 13 acres of berries to protect them from freezing.

“We lost some, but overall we are in pretty good shape,” he said. “This is the earliest I’ve ever seen it. Normally we start picking on June 20th and we’ve started already.”

Bill Maxwell at Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth also is harvesting for some wholesale customers, but said, “We’re not going to set any records this year for production.”

In the northernmost portions of the state, the late freeze wasn’t even noticed. In fact, Handley said some areas had a frost Tuesday night.

Growers in Aroostook County grow a very late-blooming berry.

“We haven’t even started yet,” said Claudette Hebert of Hebert Farm at Cross Lake. “It will probably be close to July 12.”

As with most things agricultural in the large state of Maine, damaging or beneficial weather can vary immensely depending on location.

“They’ve actually started picking in southern Maine,” Handley said. “The crop is looking pretty good. It is a solid two weeks ahead of schedule. School isn’t even out and it used to be that you went picking with the family once school was out for the summer.”

Handley said strawberries continually surprise him with their resiliency.

He said that on a strawberry plant, the largest blossom in the cluster of flowers on the top produces the biggest berry. But when that large blossom is struck by frost, Handley said, the blossoms underneath often produce great fruit.

“The competition has been eliminated, so to speak,” he said.

More information about berry availability and pick-your-own farms can be found at www.getrealmaine.com, www.pickyourown.org/ME.htm, and www.mofga.org.

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