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1A Some berries a bust

By Holly Ebel and Laura Gossman

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

If one of your favorite early summer activities has been picking strawberries, this year could be disappointing.

At several area farms, the hail that pummeled parts of southeastern Minnesota last month damaged a crop already delayed by a cool and wet spring.

Long-time strawberry growers Lowell and Lois Sterling of Sterling Berry Farm were particularly hard hit, not just with hail, but also with winter kill and blight.

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"I used the wrong fertilizer last fall, which weakened the plants, and along with everything else, there was too much rain at one time," Lowell Sterling said.

Added Lois, "We do have strawberries available, and the customers who have been here have been very pleased. We’ll just hope for better next year."

Statewide, the cool spring has delayed strawberry season by a few weeks — the peak is this weekend — but hail damage isn’t widespread, said Paul Hugunin of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Grown program. "Most of Minnesota is reporting excellent crops of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries."

Hugunin encouraged consumers to call before going to berry farms to see if they had good crops. The blueberry and raspberry season is expected to start in a week or two, roughly when the strawberry season ends, he said.

However, the Sterling’s prize-winning raspberries are no longer. "The canes were such a wreck I plowed them all under," Lowell Sterling said, although they’ll replant for next year thanks to encouragement from customers.

At Sekapp Orchards, hail knocked blossoms off the strawberry plants, destroying 80 to 90 percent of the crop, said owner Fred Kappauf. A few plants did survive, and they have excellent berries, he said.

"Our picking season however is going to be very short, probably about one week, and over by the second week in July. At the end of the season though, I am going to plow them under and never plant strawberries again."

The good news is that Sekapp’s fall crops, such as apples and squash, are coming along just fine.

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On the other hand Sleeper’s Berries never were hit by the hail, and the crop is excellent, Greg Sleeper said.

"We have 10 acres, and they are ripe for picking," he said.

For more information, visit Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

http://www.mda.state.mn.us/food/minnesotagrown/

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