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Bountiful berries: Last winter's plentiful snow protected plants; now there's plenty to pick

Strawberries fill a picker’s pail. Steve Kuchera / 1 / 5
Cary Schmies (from left), Theresa Neo and Marcus Jones pick strawberries at Finke’s Berry Farm recently. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Diane Finke in one of the strawberry beds at Finke’s Berry Farm in Carlton County. Steve Kuchera / 3 / 5
Strawberries ripen on the vine at Finke’s Berry Farm recently. Steve Kuchera / 4 / 5
A berry picker prepares to remove a strawberry from its vine. Steve Kuchera / 5 / 5

So, what you should do — on a hot August day — is make a bulging blueberry pie. It’s up to you if you let it cool or not. Then, find Old Man Winter — yell “Hey you!” — and let the pie fly as he turns around.

If you can’t wait that long, do the same with a fresh strawberry or raspberry pie today. Don’t worry about wasting precious berries, there’s more where they came from in this season of plenty.

Winter deserves to be ridiculed for a fatal flaw in its bullying last season. That big November snow, the one that ended up hanging around all season as more snow piled on top of it? It covered the Northland’s berry crops and protected them all winter. Less stress means a more healthy plant with snow melt keeping them drinking all spring. And our glacial buildup to summer allowed slow growth and berries packed with flavor.

Just ask the strawberry pickers flocking to Finke’s Berry Farm in Carlton.

“The beauty of this year is all the snow cover,” Diane Finke said this week. “They were protected from the cold. The crop is excellent.”

Her farm is in the middle of its strawberry run and has had so many customers come so fast, they’ve had to keep them away some days this month in order to let the plants catch up with ripe berries.

The season came just a few days late. Finke’s usually has ripe, pesticide-free berries by the Fourth of July but didn’t allow pickers this year until July 9. “The weather actually caught up,” Finke said, and that warmer nights helped after another interminable spring chill. And the longer it takes to ripen, the sweeter a berry gets.

Customers might have a sense of that this year.

“Everyone seems to suddenly want their strawberries,” Finke said.

It’s a “top 10” season for Doug and Diane Finke, who expect the strawberries to last into early August.

“This season has blessed us,” Diane Finke said.

And it isn’t just strawberries.

The raspberry season opened last week at Blue Vista Farm in Wisconsin’s Bayfield County. Owner Eric Carlson said “it looks like a good crop.” The plants “wintered perfectly.”

It’s a much better raspberry season than last year, Carlson said.

He said he wasn’t sure if last year’s blueberry crop could be topped, but conditions are good for that August crop as well.

Gail Larson at Blackbirds & Blueberries on Crosby Road in Cloquet is bursting.

“We have never seen so many berries,” she said of her drooping blueberry bushes. She and her husband Tim have been staking the bushes that have “clumps like grapes” full of still-green berries.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Larson said. “If they all turn blue, we’ll be OK.”

Like other berry farms, the calls about picking are ramping up. “Demand has been huge,” Larson said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Shary Zoff at Shary’s Berries north of Two Harbors is seeing the same abundance on her blueberry and raspberry bushes.

“It’s going great guns,” Zoff said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

People are leaving messages asking picking times. In past practice, Zoff has rationed picking, so people get enough when they come. Now, it’s a free-for-all.

“I don’t need to call you,” Zoff said. “There’s tons of berries.”