June 22, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Berried alive!

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Strawberry lovers have had a tough three years.

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Heidi Brennan of Sanford was picking strawberries with her children, Madison, 1, and Tyler, 4, at Lavigne's Strawberry Farm in Sanford on Tuesday, when Madison couldn't resist a sample.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Strawberry cheesecake lines the tables at last year's Strawberry Festival in South Berwick, as it will on Saturday.

Courtesy photo

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Where to pick with your pals

HERE'S A SAMPLING of farms in southern Maine where you can pick your own strawberries. It's always a good idea to call first, because farms start their pick-your-own operations at different times. Even after the fields open, sometimes they close for a day to let berries ripen.

CAPE ELIZABETH

Maxwell's Farm

Strawberry fields are off Two Lights Road

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday

Strawberry hotline: 799-3383

William. H. Jordan Farm

21 Wells Road

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Strawberry hotline: 767-2740

Alewives Brook Farm

83 Old Ocean House Road, Route 77

Hours: 9 a.m. until sunset, usually around 7 or 7:30 p.m.

Strawberry hotline: 799-7743

GORHAM

Ahlquist Farm Stand

20 Small Pond Road

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday

Strawberry hotline: 839-4080

LIMINGTON

Doles Orchard

187 Doles Ridge Road

Hours: 6 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m. daily, except when closed to ripen

Strawberry hotline: 793-4409

NEW GLOUCESTER

Pineland Farms/Gillespie Farms Division

752 Mayall Road

Hours: Expects to open Thursday; call for hours. Senior discount on Wednesdays for pickers ages 62 and older.

Strawberry hotline: 657-2877

NORTH BERWICK

Riverside Farm Stand and Greenhouse

Five miles north of South Berwick on Route 4

Hours: 8 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. daily

Strawberry hotline: 676-2648

SANFORD

Lavigne Strawberry Farm

158 Whichers Mill Road

Hours: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Strawberry hotline: 324-5497

WELLS

Spiller Farm

85 Spiller Farm Lane

Hours: Weather and picking conditions dictate the hours. Call ahead.

Strawberry hotline: 985-2575

STRAWBERRY JAMMIN'

WHAT TO DO with all those strawberries?

Why not make some homemade strawberry jam? The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is holding its series of "Preserving the Harvest" workshops again this summer. The first one will be this Tuesday (see details below). For informations on other workshops covering everything from pickling to making salsa, go to: umaine.edu/food-health/food-preservation/hands-on-workshops

WHAT: "Preserving the Harvest" workshop

WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday

TOPIC: "Hot Water Bath Canning and Freezing: Low-Sugar Jams & Jellies"

WHERE: UMaine Regional Learning Center, 75 Clearwater Drive, Suite 104, Falmouth

COST: $10 (scholarships are available)

INFO: 781-6099; or email Lois Elwell at lois.elwell@maine.edu

Last year, a warm, early spring spiked by a late frost brought some berries in early, some late, and some not at all.

The year before that, unending days of rain, rain and still more rain wilted the season altogether.

And three years ago? A harsh winter led to a lot of winterkill.

Well, you can start dreaming of strawberry shortcake again, and strawberry margaritas and strawberries on your cereal in the morning. Because this year, everything looks on time and delicious.

"It actually looks like we've got a pretty good season coming up," said David Handley, a vegetable and small fruit specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

"I'm touching wood and crossing fingers and doing everything else I can to keep that in good shape, but in terms of flower development, plant health and so forth, the plants are right where they should be. They look pretty good. The amount of berries looks very nice, and the size and quality of the fruit that I'm seeing starting to ripen in southern Maine also looks very good."

Bill Bamford of Maxwell's Farm in Cape Elizabeth, who will be picking 13 acres of strawberry fields this year, said although there was an unusual spring, the berries look right on target.

"The crop looks really good," he said. "There were a lot of blossoms there earlier, and every blossom turns into a strawberry. Barring some natural disaster, we're pretty optimistic at this point and hoping we can make a few people happy."

The unusual spring Bamford spoke of is one of the reasons the fields are looking so good. Cool, wet weather in March and April means there are fewer strawberry bud weevils, tarnished plant bugs and spider mites to chow down on strawberry plants before we can harvest them for our strawberry sundaes.

Handley said as far as strawberry-eating insects go, "there's been very little out there this year."

"Some of these insects overwinter as adults," he explained, "and what happens in the spring is they crawl out and they have to eat a little bit, and then they have to lay eggs. And if the weather is really crummy during that period, one or all of those things start to fall apart."

Penny Jordan, whose family grows about four-and-a-half acres of strawberries on their farm in Cape Elizabeth, said the berries there "look gorgeous."

"To me this is a normal season, which means strawberries coming right around the 24th, 25th, 27th, in that time frame, which is normal from my perspective because you don't want the season to peak before the Fourth of July," Jordan said.

"If they come in right around the end of June, then your peak is going to be during that Fourth of July week when a lot of people have vacations and want to get out and pick strawberries."

That means berries should be ready just in time for the numerous strawberry festivals being held in southern Maine this weekend. 

FROM SHORTCAKE TO PIZZA

On Friday, more than 150 volunteers will gather at the Community Center in South Berwick to hull, slice and sugar berries for the 36th Annual South Berwick Strawberry Festival on Saturday. The berries will be used in strawberry shortcake and strawberry cheesecake, which sell for $5 a dish to benefit non-profit organizations in town.

Last year, the festival used more than 250 cases of fresh strawberries, 80 gallons of whipped cream and more than 330 biscuits. It all adds up. Since the festival began 35 years ago, organizers have given away almost $200,000 in grants and scholarships.

(Continued on page 2)

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