It’s almost berry season in Minnesota. We spoke with strawberry producers across the state about the upcoming season, asked for some preservation and freezing tips, and even got a delicious Strawberry Shortcake Bars recipe.
Strawberry farms in the metro area, central, and southern Minnesota are expected to open mid- to late June. Opening dates depend on soil conditions, berry varieties, and weather. “The crop looks good this year,” said Julie Townsend of Dassel Hillside Farm in central Minnesota. “We did not have frost and the strawberries are blooming. We are expecting to open the week of June 11.” For northern Minnesota counties, the berry season is expected to start in late June or early July. Thaddeus McCamant, a specialty crop instructor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, explains. “The cooler northern climate causes a later season,” said McCamant. “Mild temperatures extend the picking season because it slows the ripening of the berry,” which can improve a crop’s color, taste, and size.
Strawberries can be picked 21-30 days after a plant blossoms. Unlike other fruits, once a strawberry is picked, it will not get any riper. Choose berries that are firm, plump, and bright red, with the green top still attached.
Tonya Sanner of Firefly Berries told us that the season generally lasts 2-3 weeks for June bearing varieties, which is most common for Minnesota berry patches. Everbearing varieties have 3 small spurts of ripeness throughout the summer. Regardless of the variety, remember that the demand is high during the first few days of picking. It’s always a good idea to call ahead or check farms’ Facebook pages before visiting. Even if a farm is open for the season, growers will know the best times to come and can help you plan for a great berry picking experience.
For many Minnesota families, strawberry picking is a great way to involve multiple generations in a beloved tradition. From picking to preserving, berries can also provide hands-on educational experiences.
“Strawberry picking is a family activity,” said Katherine Brozek of Hilltop Harvest Strawberry Farm in Redwood Falls. “We love to watch young kids learn where their food comes from.”
Brozek recommends picking berries in the morning when the air is cooler and berries are firmer. After picking, get them to a cooler as soon as possible. Fresh strawberries should be processed or eaten within three days of picking.
Berries should not be washed until they are ready to be eaten. To freeze the berries, wash them, cut the tops, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and freeze for thirty minutes. Once frozen, place the berries in Ziploc bags for smoothies or fresh strawberries later in the year.
The Minnesota Grown Directory has 80 strawberry farms, 31 blueberry farms, and 41 summer raspberry farms. Thank you, Dassel Hillside Berry Farm, Firefly Berries, Hilltop Harvest, and Thaddeus McCamant for your insight on Minnesota Berry farms and the 2017 picking season!