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Cool weather delays strawberrry picking time

Betty Abbott positions an owl scarecrow in Abbie's Acres Berry Farm east of Bemidji. She and her husband, Steve, left, have been in the U-Pick business for strawberries and raspberries for about four years. As is the case with other area U-Pick berry patches - Ter-Lee Gardens near Bagley and Mistic Berry Farm in Nebish - the strawberries are just beginning to ripen. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Strawberry shortcake won't be on the menu for the Fourth of July, at least not with local berries.

"With all this cool, it's just been slow," said Betty Abbott, owner with her husband, Steve, of Abbie's Acres Berry Farm east of Bemidji. "As a farmer, you're at the mercy of the weather."

Brad Hopkins, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D., said the temperatures there logged a mean high for June of 62 degrees, about 2.8 degrees below normal. The May average high was 52.6 degrees, 5.5 degrees below normal, and April average highs were 53.6 degrees, 5.1 degrees below normal.

"Cloudy and cool," he said.

"Everything is delayed, and soils didn't warm up rapidly," said Beltrami County Master Gardener Cathy Peck. "I still have lilacs blooming."

Last weekend Loralee Nennich joked that she expected to have ripe tomatoes before the strawberries are ripe.

"I ate my first little cherry tomato yesterday," she said Thursday.

She and her husband, Terry Nennich, own Ter-Lee Gardens south of Bagley. They grow some of their vegetables in high hoop houses covered with solar plastic and can plant the starts in April.

However, she said the strawberries are starting to look like they will ripen soon. She said she hopes to have enough to pick by the end of next week for sale at the North Country Farmers Market. She said she expects the Ter-Lee U-Pick to open sometime around the middle of July, "which is kind of vague, but it's our best guess."

"In 18 years we've never seen anything like this," Loralee said. "It's just a crazy season."

She said the latest they have opened before this year was July 9 in 2008.

Frank Mistic, owner of Mistic Berry Farm in Nebish with his wife, Diana, said, "We're starting to see a little red."

He said the positive side of the cool weather and late strawberry ripening is that the berries will be bigger than usual. Mistic Berry Farm also grows raspberries. Frank said as the strawberry season draws down, the raspberries should be ready.

"Thank God we don't have all our berries in one basket," Betty Abbott said. Abbie's Acres also has about four acres of raspberries.

The Mistics open a restaurant on their farm during the U-Pick season, and Betty said they hope to open a restaurant, too. She said she thinks the proximity to Bemidji will make a country café a popular lunch spot.

She said they started their berry business four years ago.

"It actually was my husband's dream," she said.

Steve said as a youngster 1960s and 1970s he used to work at a produce and berry farm near the Otter Tail Power Dam area, Grotte's Berry Farm. That operation gave him the idea of starting his own berry farm. They also tap more than 200 maple trees in the spring and sell maple syrup.

"It's coming along," Steve said. "I don't want it to get too big. What I really enjoy is the people. People come here, they get out of their cars and they're happy and smiling."