Cindy Duchin has been growing strawberries in North Sandwich for 20 years and said this year's crop was "incredible." (Courtesy photo)
Rebecca Green has been working on her blueberry bushes since there was still snow on the ground, and has been rewarded with marble-sized berries. At right. (Courtesy)
It's been a good year for all kinds of berries, said Kelley McAdam of the UNH Cooperative Extension Service.
She said that a rainy spring and summer have produced a plentiful crop of strawberries and blueberries in New Hampshire after production fell during drought conditions last year.
"Strawberry growers all over the state reported better than average crops this spring. And we're seeing a blueberry crop that is about a week later than usual, but is very bountiful with lots of big berries,'' said McAdam.
Just how much difference can a year make? A lot. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the 2016 season show the yield of pounds of blueberries per acre in New Hampshire declined to 1,650, compared to 2,600 in the previous year.
Lily Behn, who works at Stone Brook Hill Farm on Glidden Road in Gilford, said that there is an outstanding crop of high bush blueberries at the farm. “Berries are plentiful this year after a late start because it was so cold this spring. And in recent days, with lots of sun, they're ripening very fast.”
It's a pick-your own operation with pre-picked pints available for $3.50.
The mature, high bush blueberries at Green Acres Berries in New Hampton began to ripen in mid-July and are bursting with flavor, said Rebecca Green. Her 1,000 no-spray blueberry bushes are open to "pick your own" customers. She also has a supply of pre-picked for those not wanting to venture into the field, which sits atop Donkin Hill off Route 132, facing west, with a commanding view of surrounding forest and hills.
"I can't believe how big this crop is, and how big the berries are; they seem like the size of small grapes," said Green, who is new at the life of a farmer.
She and her husband purchased the farm from the longtime owner early this year and moved to the area from Oklahoma City. Their grown children are beginning careers in the Northeast, so the couple decided to make the move after falling in love with the property at 90 Donkin Hill Road. The former dairy farm has rolling pastures and forest land bound by historic rock walls and a stream. It is crossed by what used to be a carriage road.
The Green family has enjoyed days picking berries from the time the children were small.
"We've just always loved being out in a beautiful field on a sunny day, picking fruit," Green said. "My youngest, Zachary, would pick some for his bucket, but probably ended up putting more right in his mouth."
At her new farm, she pruned overgrown bushes when they were dormant and snow was on the ground. Then she pulled weeds and vines in the early spring. When the grass started to grow, she mowed for days on end. Her work seems to have paid off. Green is delighted with what she is seeing this summer.
"We were waiting and waiting, anticipating, and then it seemed like the berries went from green to blue in the course of a few days. We opened the field to the public and the people who have come have been delighted that we're maintaining the U-pick operation," she said. "A lot of the customers have come here for years with their families, have great memories of this place and just really love the taste of these berries."
Year-to-date rainfall in the Lakes Region is about 4 inches above average, and this has slowed some agricultural operations, even making it hard to cut and bale hay, but the rain seems to have been good for the berries.
Carl Majewski, food and agriculture specialist for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said the natural sugars that make berries sweet are produced through photosynthesis, which requires sunshine, but a rainy summer doesn't seem to affect the sweetness.
"A ripe berry is a ripe berry," he said. "They need the moisture from the rain."
However, too much rain can be a problem, promoting a fungus that can lead to a condition known as mummy berry, which can cause berries to shrivel.
"We saw a little mummy berry this year, but thankfully it wasn't bad," Green said. "All in all, it seems like a pretty good year. I've talked to other growers and farm stand operators, and this seems like a bumper crop. We just want to make sure it all gets picked."
One of the largest operations in the state is Norland Berries on North Barnstead Road in Barnstead, which has 13 acres of blueberry plants and was formerly owned by the Locke family. Now owned by the Norris family, its web site advertises prices of $2.50 a pound or $3.50 a pint with 10 pounds of frozen berries going for $30.
It's also a good year for raspberries according to Nathan Smith of Smith Farm Stand on Sleeper Hill Road in Gilford, who says his three-quarter acres of raspberry bushes usually yield around 3,000 pints a year and he's certain he'll hit or exceed that level this year.
He said that this year's crop is on the canes which grew last summer and are now brown while the green canes are those which will produce next year's crop.
He also has high bush blueberries which are now ripe and says that he wishes he had put in more of them when he planted them about 20 years ago because they're easier to take care of than strawberries, which he raised until 2010, but dropped because they are too labor intensive for his small family operation.
“We still get about 200 calls a year from people asking when we'll have pick-your-own strawberries,” said Smith.
Cindy Duchin of North Sandwich, who raises both strawberries and blueberries, said that she's been raising strawberries ever since she was 12 years old and growing up in Swanzey.
She's been growing them in Sandwich the last 20 years and says that this year's crop was “incredible.”
Like most growers, she replaces her plants every two years as they drop in productivity after sending out runners which produce well in the second year. This year she has the best of both worlds as the space between her 40 foot rows were pretty wide and her husband tilled the space where the older plants were located to put in new plants.
“It worked out wonderfully,” she said.
She said that the garden area where she grows both strawberries and blueberries is now fenced after having been invaded several years ago by a bear, who was spotted devouring everything in sight in the field by a neighbor.
Duchin used to bring her strawberries to the North Sandwich store, which is now closed, to sell. She says loyal customers now come to her home to get their berries.
Duchin has abut 70 high bush blueberry plants which she covers with netting to keep away the birds and says this year's crop is also excellent.
Also concerned about the birds is Todd Lemieux of Rogers Road in Belmont, who grows raspberries and also has two cherry trees which are producing a bumper crop.
“I've seen a Coopers Hawk eyeing the cherries,” he says. The two trees, which produce small, tart cherries used in making cherry pies, are very productive this year although reaching their peak later than usual.
“Most years they're done by the 4th of July. It's about two weeks later than that this year and we only have something like a 10-day window to harvest them,” says Lemieux, who estimates that the trees produce around 7,000 cherries.
He has 100 raspberry plants, all on trellises, which are producing a large crop of heritage raspberries. He says that the first raspberry harvest lasts around three weeks and that after a two-week break he'll have a second harvest.
Ethan and Megan Tilton came all the way from Moultonborough to pick raspberries at Smith Farm Stand in Gilford. (Roger Amsden photo)
- Written by Roger Amsden
- Category: Local News
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