Maine strawberry crop bountiful thanks to hot spring

Trisha Kostusyk, 10, and her sister Fiona, 8, sell strawberries on Route 1A in Winterport in 2009. This year's harvest has been better than in recent years thanks in part to a warm spring.
Bridget Brown | BDN
Trisha Kostusyk, 10, and her sister Fiona, 8, sell strawberries on Route 1A in Winterport in 2009. This year's harvest has been better than in recent years thanks in part to a warm spring. Buy Photo
By Andrew Bulfinch, Foster's Daily Democrat
Posted June 22, 2012, at 7:09 a.m.

BERWICK, Maine — Isabella Costello came to Riverside Farm with her mother and big brother Thursday morning taking advantage of the strong season for the juicy red berries.

The toddler is well known there for her strawberry plucking skills. Carrying her own box ready to be filled, the 5-year-old was ready to reap the rewards of a flourishing season for local strawberry crops.

According to owner Dave Tuttle, known by locals and farm frequenters as Farmer Dave, this season is particularly ideal for strawberries due in large part to the warm weather this region has experienced since spring.

He said the warmth starting early in March brought good conditions for the fruit to grow. Despite losing a lot of the “king blossoms” to an unseasonable freeze in the area in late spring, the warm weather means a strong crop of the secondary berries being harvested at the farm in North Berwick.

“Now we’ve got some heat, they’ll start to ripen,” he said.

Each year, workers at the farm try to plant about 5,000 new plants to pick from for the following three to four years, rotating which garden beds they pick from for the farm stand, farmer’s markets and, the very popular pick-your-own crops.

“There’s a lot of berries this year,” he said, a good thing if “Strawberry Queen” Isabella, nicknamed for her stealthy strawberry picking capabilities, comes to visit.

“She knows how to eat them just as fast,” her mother, Laura, said.

Isabella, her mother, and her big brother Jake, 9, have been coming to the farm for the last six seasons, they said. Having moved from Massachusetts to Maine about seven years ago, Laura said it’s important to her to support local businesses.

For Farmer Dave, providing a local and fresh food source is just as important for him.

“We’re feeding the community,” he said.

In addition to the warm weather this year, Jen Hall, an employee at Butternut Farm in Farmington, said the pollination process used there has also been a big help. She said honeybees were brought in earlier this year and explained that the more flowers pollinated by the bees means more strawberries can be made.

“We had a really great pollination process this spring,” she said.

Butternut Farm has been booming with the pick-your-own business the last couple weeks, she said, and everything produced there is sold on-site.

Having a loyal customer base pushes Farmer Dave to be diligent with his work on the farm, family-owned since 1743, though he said he finds every aspect of his work enjoyable regardless.

“I think I’ve got soil in my blood,” he said. “I could weed all day long.”

Having tended the strawberry crops year after year, he said this year, in comparison to last, is indeed much better.

At $1.90 per pound the berries are one of the more popular crops at the farm as well as at farmer’s markets in York and in Dover and Portsmouth, N.H., where Farmer Dave sells his produce. Last Saturday alone, his crews picked 350 quarts of strawberries to take to the markets.

“Some years you do better than others,” he said, explaining while last year wasn’t favorable for the strawberries, it was for other crops like sweet potatoes.

“It has its ups and downs,” he said of farming. “You have to learn that sometimes you’ll lose a crop.”

But as long as the sun keeps shining on local crops, strawberries are all but guaranteed to sweeten the summer.

“It’s nice to have the really warm days to ripen the berries,” he said.

© 2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat

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http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/22/business/maine-strawberry-crop-bountiful-thanks-to-hot-spring/ printed on August 1, 2014