REGION — Most local pick your own farms plan to open this year, but with some changes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Warmer than usual temperatures and lack of rain are also impacting crops and adding to the workload.

Farms planning to open are implementing Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and best management practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Stevenson’s Strawberries, 271 Tucker Road in Wayne, will be open for pick your own strawberries and peas later this month.

On Monday, June 22, owner Tom Stevenson said by phone no specific date has been set yet but the crop looks pretty good.

“We’ve been spot picking, the berries taste good,” he said. “We’ll be picking about 13 acres this year.”

The recent hot temperatures have brought the berries along quicker, Stevenson said.

“Hot sun was better then than in a week. We’ve been watering nonstop,” he said.

North Carolina berry producers were right in the midst of their picking season when the coronavirus hit, Stevenson said.

Guidelines developed there have followed right up the northeast, he said.

Stevenson’s Strawberry Farm will be open this year with some changes due to the coronavirus. Last year, World War II Veteran Clifford Tenney, 97 of Livermore, and his daughter Leda Shovelton of South Carolina picked strawberries at Stevenson’s in Wayne on July 5, 2019. File photo

“All our workers will wear masks,” Stevenson said. “Fortunately, we were already using an assign row system.

“We will keep movement within the fields in a single direction and ask pickers to exit through the next walkway to limit interactions.”

Stevenson’s Strawberries is large enough that people can spread out and rows can be skipped. Once a field is gone through, a couple of days are possible between pickings, Stevenson said.

“One of the weirdest changes is we are asking people to stay in their cars at checkout,” he said. “Keep the berries in the trunk or pass them through the window to limit face to face contact.

“We were already set up so people can’t bring their own containers.”

Peas are available to pick and they are looking great, Stevenson said.

“We will see about the later ones. The early varieties had already blossomed, set pods. The heat brought them along rapidly,” he said. “We’ve been pounding the water to them, that helps.”

Pike’s Strawberries in Farmington weren’t planning to open this year for pick your own.

“This is my last year. The beds are three years old,” owner David Pike said recently. “I was going to stop last year but my son and daughter-in-law talked me in to one more year.”

Strawberries will be available at the Subway parking lot stand on Routes 2 and 4 when available, he said.

“The heat has slowed them down from growing. I’ve been irrigating them overhead a couple times a day the last three days to cool them down,” Pike said. “The water level in the Sandy River is really low.

“A couple strawberry varieties are still in the early green stages. It’s not going to be a good year, don’t see the quantity coming where we’d need to open for pick your own.”

Strawberries will be available at Pike’s stand in the Subway parking lot in Farmington as they ripen. Pictured with some of last season’s plump sweet berries were employee Lexi Mittelstadt of Wilton and Darryl Pike. File photo

Berry Fruit Farm, Crash Road in Livermore, plans to open for strawberry and later raspberry picking using social distancing measures.

“We’ll be giving everybody pint or quart boxes to everybody to pick in, for less contact,” owner Joel Gilbert said recently in a phone interview. “We’ll be open on select days for you pick to give time to ripen fruit, clean or sanitize as needed.”

Pickers are encouraged to check the farm’s Facebook page for more information.

Berry Fruit Farm was able to get through the frost season but size is down on the strawberry crop because of the recent heat. Irrigation under the plants is helping them for sure, Gilbert said.

“The berries are there. People are going to want to come early in the season,” he said.

Raspberries will also be open for picking on select days.

“(Extension Small Fruit Specialist) David Handley said, ‘The season could go fast this year because of the heat during blossom’,” Gilbert said.

Morrison Hill Orchard, 272 Morrison Hill Road in Farmington, plans to open for raspberry and blueberry picking.

Owned by Jeanne and Jerry Simpson, Jeanne said in a recent phone interview that people will be asked not to bring containers back this year, as has been the practice.

“We won’t be taking them,” she said. “We will have signs up to limit the number (of pickers) at any time.”

“Typically July is the month for raspberries. This year is not typical,” she said.

For more information visit their Facebook page or call 778-4945.

Wilton Blueberry Farm, McLaughlin Road in Wilton, will also open with changes this year.

Co-owner Jan Collins said everyone will be asked to wear masks and wash their hands before entering the fields.

“We’ll have a washing station set up,” she said.

The blueberry farm has several varieties with rows maturing at different rates.

“They’re spread out. That’s in our favor,” Collins said. “We’ll mark the bushes that have been picked, rotate and not pick in the same area two days in a row or even on the same day, spread people out.”

Dry weather could mean the berries won’t be as large this year, although the crop looks good, she said.

For more information, visit Collins’s personal Facebook page or call 645-2128.

Steep Hill Farm in Fayette will not be open for raspberry and blueberry picking this year.

Owner George Joseph said his is a small operation.

“With the way the fields are set up, it would be hard given the COVID-19 restrictions,” he said. “There’s no running water. We’d have to hire staff.”

The farm has never picked to sell and lots of things would have to be learned first, he said.

“The crop looks good,” Joseph said. “We’re caring for the fields in hopes of opening next year.

“Financially it’s an issue.”

A list of Western Maine U-Pick Farms is available at http://www.pickyourown.org/MEwest.htm.

 

 

 

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