An unseasonably long winter and a wet beginning to summer may have shortened the strawberry picking season at Afton Apple Orchard, but it did not stop hundreds of area residents from flocking to its fields.
The strawberry season at the orchard was winding down this week.
"This is our second year coming and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day," said Stillwater resident Rachel Karasek, who was picking strawberries last week with her three children. "It's easier this year. And, we always have fun."
The typical strawberry season in Minnesota begins mid-June and lasts well into July. However, unruly weather, including an early May snowstorm, caused Afton Apple owner Cindy Femling to work with a much shorter harvesting window. The season was open 11 days heading into this week.
"(The weather) just kept the fields wet," Femling said. "The wet and humid weather causes the strawberries to ripen up too fast and they can't sit where it's moist. I think last week we had two inches of rainfall in an hour."
Still recovering from hail damage from last season, a large field was re-tilled and workers planted roughly 80,000 plants, most of which will be harvested next season.
Despite bad weather, the late start to the strawberry picking season still brought the crowds, and lots of them, according to Mike Femling, the orchard's production manager. Since opening for the short season, a steady stream of customers picked through what he called the "normal" orchard and were being directed to the St. Croix Trail patch as well.
"Everyone is just looking for the best berries," Mike said.
The weather and large influx of strawberry pickers had the operation open on a day-by-day basis.
With the Michigan blueberry and cherry season also running late, the orchard is still taking order and request that those interested get their orders in by Wednesday, July 10, via phone, email or fax.
For more information or to order berries, visit the Afton Apple Orchard website at http://www.aftonapple.com.