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Stawberries arrive for local farms in rain or shine

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CANTON - North country residents celebrated the beginning of strawberry season on Wednesday by filling their baskets with strawberries from local farms.

Although some berry farms such as Merkley’s U-Pick, Dollar Road, Lisbon and Martin’s Farm Market, Stockholm, now have open hours for picking, the weather has affected each farm in different ways. Farmers this season have seen much more rain and lower temperatures compared to last year, which can have a positive or negative impact on strawberries depending on the farm.

Daniel Z. Martin who runs Martin’s Farm Market in Stockholm, said this year’s weather was much more normal than last year’s 70 degree March.

“The heat last year wouldn’t have been bad if it hadn’t been followed by cold,” he said. “We had really warm temperatures in March for weeks, so they broke dormancy record early. Then we had three nights where it was 18 or 19 degrees in the last week of April and it was too cold for them.”

Mr. Martin said that as the weather warms up, the strawberries break dormancy and can no longer tolerate cold temperatures. He said that although most years he produces between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of strawberries, last year he only had 2,000.

Mr. Martin said that for the sake of his two and a half acres of strawberry fields, he likes the first two weeks of June to have an inch and a half of rain each.

“If the weather is cool and rainy in the beginning of June, it allows them time to grow big, much better than hot and dry,” he said. “So this year’s weather is a strawberry’s dream: wet while they’re sizing, dry when they’re ripening.”

Mark A. Merkley, however, said the warmer weather was more beneficial to his two strawberry fields last year than the rain has been this year. His crop suffered more damage this season due to much colder temperatures during the winter months, he said.

Although Mr. Merkley said the rain has not helped his crop much, his daughter, Sara L. Merkley said the spring rain did not do as much damage as the winter weather.

“Our late crop is not going to come because of the winter damage we had,” she said. “With this rain, normally the berries would be mushed and spoiled, but they looked beautiful. I actually think they have a better flavor this year than most.”

Miss Merkley, who helps her father run the U-Pick for their family-owned farm, said that although they lost half of their strawberries this year, they are already preparing for a better crop next year.

“We just finished planting about three acres of new strawberries, about 40,000 plants,” Miss Merkley said. “So next year’s going to be great.”

Even though they did not have a normal size crop this season, north country residents were still eager for strawberries on the first day of Merkley’s U-Pick. Miss Merkley said some people were even a half an hour early.

“We’ve had quite a few people already, much more than I expected,” she said.

Mr. Martin said that he has several customers that come back each year, but also sees new faces every picking day.

Rachelle A. Amo, Ogdensburg, said she goes strawberry picking with her kids every year and freezes the strawberries to make jam.

“I love that we can have organic produce all year round at a much cheaper price,” she said.

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