In this unusual berry-picking season, strawberries are mostly picked over while blueberries and raspberries are ripe and ready.
A mild spring and early ripening prompted an early, odd season for Minnesota strawberry growers. It mostly ended before July 4th, when people typically are out picking strawberries, and success varied from farm to farm.
But blockbuster blueberry and raspberry crops are ripe, ahead of their time.
"It's a really early season, normally we don't have those this early," said Joe Knaak, manager of the Berry Patch on County Road 50, just west of County Road 15 in Forest Lake.
"We opened three weeks earlier this year than we did last year," he said of the strawberry season.
The warm early spring and quick growing season also brought an unusual phenomenon throughout the state, said Paul Hugunin of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture: There's been more variation from farm to farm as far as yields than he can ever remember.
"The season started with a lot of promise because it was so early, but in most cases it really didn't live up to that promise," he said. "All in all, it was probably an OK year for most strawberry growers. But it's varied tremendously from farm to farm."
Kevin Edberg, owner of the Berry Patch, said in his 35 years as a grower, he's never uncovered his strawberries so early in the season, on March 24. Last year by comparison, it was April 16, he said.
"There's variation from variety to variety, from soil type to soil type, from farm to farm," Hugunin said. "Everything was early, which means that blueberries and raspberries are well underway, and that's the case in Washington County, as it is just about everywhere that's not that far north."
"It was definitely an early season for everybody, throughout the whole state," agreed Jim Luby, horticulture science professor of the University of Minnesota. He added, however, that some are still being picked farther north, including in the Grand Rapids area.
When March's 80-some degree temperatures gave way to April frost, strawberries south of the Twin Cities, where the plants were further along, took much more of a hit then in Grand Rapids and north-central Minnesota, where they're having a typical season, Luby said.
Pine Tree Orchards, a family farm in White Bear Lake since the 1950s, had a plentiful strawberry harvest, said Nancy Jacobson, one of six siblings who with their mother, Dickey Jacobson, own the business.
"We had a very good yield, there were more strawberries, and the quality and the flavor were great," Jacobson said.
It wasn't as good as their 2009 crop, which had great timing and a good yield, she noted, but this year they're glad to have finished early, before the temperatures hovered in the 90s and even topped 100 last week.
In Afton, one strawberry farmer was swamped with nine inches of rain during a 48-hour period, in the height of strawberry picking time, causing mud and other problems that forced him to close his patch early.
This season's heavy rains and recent flooding led the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to ask fruit and vegetable farmers, and established community gardens, to tally up losses so the department can assess how widespread they are.
The agency is also seeking garden centers and nurseries willing to donate annual fruit and vegetable plants to these growers so they can replant some crops.
At Pine Tree Orchards, the 2012 strawberry season ended Saturday. The operation will reopen in August for apple picking, with frozen strawberries for sale, as well as strawberry rhubarb pies and more, Jacobson said.
Joy Powell • 651-925-5038