By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — PERU — What’s better than a sweet, plump, juicy summer strawberry?
A sweet, plump, juicy summer strawberry that you picked yourself.
The pick-your-own summer-produce season is now underway. Linda Facteau, the produce retail and wholesale manager at Rulfs Orchard in Peru, offered a few suggestions recently on how to make the most of the pick-your-own produce experience. She said now is the time to pick strawberries; the season began about the third week of June.
“You can pick well into the third week of July,” said Facteau, who is also the orchard’s greenhouse manager. “And we go back-to-back with blueberries.”
The orchard also offers a fall crop of pick-your-own apples and pumpkins later in the growing season. One crop has gained in popularity in the past few years.
“This will be our third year we’re trying you-pick tomatoes,” she said. “If you’re canning or making your own salsa, you have fun with that.”
Facteau said the tomatoes will be ready to pick by the third week of August, and the season goes into September.
“It’s a great thing to pick your own tomatoes because you’ll get canning tomatoes without any blemishes.”
Back to the strawberry season — albeit a rainy one — Facteau said not to let a little rainfall stop you.
“I think you had better have webbed feet to pick strawberries this year,” she quipped. “Berries are very perishable, so you need to pick them at just the right time, rain or shine.”
Facteau said the turnout has been good, nonetheless.
“And it’s a beautiful crop this year.”
When there’s rain and dirt, there’s mud. In a 5-acre strawberry patch, Rulfs’ laid straw down in between the plant rows to absorb some of the excess water to make it easier to navigate.
“Don’t wear your Sunday finest,” she said. “Wear your work clothes. As my mother would say: ‘Put your play clothes on.’ ”
Guests can bring their own containers — almost anything will do — or Rulfs sells small baskets for 20 cents. The containers are weighed when empty and then again when they’re packed full.
Facteau said it’s important to keep in mind that larger containers of eight pints can weigh more than 8 pounds. It may not sound like much, but when navigating a crop field with kids in tow, it’s something to consider.
Facteau also joked that sometimes they should weigh the guests.
“Well, they eat so many in the field while they’re picking,” she quipped.
Facteau said that sampling as you’re picking is totally acceptable pick-your-own etiquette.
“Of course it is,” she said. “And we’ll know anyway. When you come up to pay with your face all smeared with strawberries, we’ll know.”
Facteau said there’s always someone on hand to help people find the ripest berries to be picked, adding that there are some serious berry pickers in the North Country.
“They pick from 1 to 50 pounds,” she said. “You could spend a good part of the day.”
And for those in the berry-picking long haul, a nearby Porta-Potty is set up to accommodate guests. Pickers are also in direct full sun when those rain clouds depart, so wear appropriate sunscreen. Patrons can probably ditch the bug spray.
“It’s never really buggy down here,” Facteau said.
Be prepared to do some crop-picking calisthenics.
“Some folks scoot along on their butt, some pick on their hands and knees, some people squat, some bend over,” she said. “Everyone has their own picking pose.”
Look for the largest flower on the plant.
“We call that the king flower,” she said. “And that’s going to be the first and biggest of the berries.”
But there’s more to come. Secondary flowers mean two or three rounds of ripe berry picking. Facteau said there’s no special technique.
“It’s not like an apple,” she said.
Apples usually require a twisting motion to pluck the stem from the branch.
“Ripe strawberries will just come off,” she said.
Don’t just pick the surface berries.
“Some of the best big berries are hiding under the leaves, so look under the bush,” Facteau said. “They won’t jump into your basket.”
Facteau said anyone can enjoy the pick-your-own experience.
“It’s a fun, great time for the family.”PICK-YOUR-OWN PRODUCE Some local farms that offer the pick-your-own experience include: Rulfs Orchard is at 531 Bear Swamp Road in Peru. For questions, call 643-8636 or visit www.rulfsorchard.com. Pray's Family Farms offers pick-your-own strawberries, tomatoes and pumpkins on Route 9 in Keeseville. For questions, call 834-9130.