Good things come to those who wait.
That English phrase about the virtue of patience can definitely be applied to this year’s strawberry season – and to all the seasons yet to come this summer.
“We’re about 10 days behind,” said Tara Turner, who is the strawberry manager at Turner’s Fresh Market.
Typically, they begin picking strawberries around the second week of June.
She anticipates that their berries will be ready by the end of next week.
The season is a bit later because of this year’s cold, rainy spring.
“The weather is more erratic than it used to be. I think we’re going to see more of that,” said her father, Ross, who has owned the business for more than 40 years.
He said that traditionally, June 1 is the frost-free date. But, he also remembers years when there was a late frost, even toward the end of June.
Ross believes the last time that happened was about 10 years ago.
“Tara’s grandparents (John and Lulu Turner) never sold any plants until Memorial Day, because that was the frost-free day,” he said.
Recent springs that were warmer than they were in years past mean some people think of these springs as now being the norm.
This year’s colder spring threw a wrench into that idea.
“This has been the coldest start that I can remember. Usually, we get a cold spell someplace. But this year, we didn’t have a cold spell. It just stayed cold,” said Steve Scheller, who has owned King Berry for about 30 years.
Luckily, people waited to buy flowers and plants for their gardens, he said.
Turner’s has seen the same thing.
Both businesses continue to have a selection of flowers and items for gardens, and say there is still plenty of time for planting.
Ross said the variation in the weather will be a challenge for the “grow local folks.”
At Turner’s, they usually plant onions and strawberries around April 20.
This year’s rain and cold meant they were not able to. Instead, those plants went in the second or third week of May.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is like a month late,'” he said. “It pushes everything back.”
Tara said the strawberries they planted this year will be ready for picking next year.
“We pick a field usually for three years. We will plant new fields two years in a row and then skip a year,” she said.
Turner’s is trying to extend its growing season by planting one variety, Wendy, that is ready earlier in the strawberry season and another variety, Jewel, that is ready later in the season.
For the last 30 years, Honeoye was only planted. This year, Wendy and Jewel were added to the mix. Those new varieties will be ready for picking next year.
Tara said with the strawberries being later this year, it means there will still likely be berries for July 4.
Once this year’s crop is ripe, they need to be picked quickly or they will rot.
Turner’s continues to add options for its customers to ensure that does not happen. Those options include offering a bulk box of strawberries for customers, extending the pick-your-own berries hours until 7 p.m. and also offering a discount to flex purchase customers.
Turner’s Fresh Market is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. When the strawberries are ready to be picked, those hours are extended to 7 p.m.
That change occurred about five years ago.
Tara said they began to notice that not as many people picked their own strawberries at the market. With both parents in many households working these days and families having busy schedules, some do not have the time, she said. That is why they decided to extend the hours so that those wanting to pick strawberries can do so after they are done working.
They said people do not realize how much money they save by picking their own berries.
Last year, Turner’s charged $1.10 per pound for pick-your-own strawberries. Quarts sold over the counter in the market were $4.75. There are usually about 1 1/2 pounds of strawberries per quart.
The 10-pound bulk box was also something new the last couple of years. The price for that box was $25. If someone had bought that same amount in quarts, their cost would have been $7 more, she said.
The flex purchase discount is for customers who want strawberries sometime during the season – it doesn’t matter to them exactly when.
Tara said the names of those people are put on a list, and they receive a discount for being flexible.
“It helps to extend the season by picking the berries when they’re ready rather than when a customer wants them,” she said. “We are trying to offer a lot of options for customers.”
End-of-the-year surveys are where Turner’s gets its ideas to make changes.
That is why they began selling strawberries on Waupaca’s city square last year and will do so again this year.
On average, the strawberry season lasts for two weeks, but there have been years when its season was for three.
“That is why we are trying to extend the season by planting a variety that ripens quicker and another variety that is ready later,” she said.
Scheller has done that with his raspberries.
While Turner’s is known for its strawberries, King Berry is known for its raspberries.
Scheller said he usually begins picking his raspberries around July 3. Last year, some were ready by the end of June.
This year, he expects his berries to be a week later than that typical July 3 date.
The several days last week when the temperature was in the 90s did help plants begin to catch up, but Scheller still expects everything to be a full week behind.
His tomatoes, however, should be close to normal, as far as when they will be ripe. He grows them in a greenhouse so he can avoid tomato blight and says he should begin picking them by June 25.
The upcoming weather will determine just when sweet corn is ready, and Scheller said that while many things will be a bit behind this summer, “compared to what the world is dealing with, we are blessed.”
Ross said Wisconsin’s growing season will be a little shorter this year.
“It is a slow start and a hard start. The season is here. It’s just not going to be as long,” he said. “The farmers appreciate people being patient.”