Wayne Wold in one of his strawberry beds, June 14. Most years, these berries would already be red and ready for picking.  CRAIG MOORHEAD/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Wayne Wold in one of his strawberry beds, June 14. Most years, these berries would already be red and ready for picking. CRAIG MOORHEAD/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Last week, Wayne Wold surveyed the fruits of his efforts, acres of strawberries that stretched in neat rows across the land.

"We were picking a lot of berries on Memorial Day last year," he said. "This year, everything is just delayed."

"I would guess, we'll open up about the 19th or 20th this year. But people should call ahead to check on that. We'll have a recording on the phone to let pickers know what to expect."

Weather is everything in the fruit business, Wold explained.

"It's been cold. The rain isn't bad, even though we've had more than enough. But it never even got up to 60 degrees some days last week. That's not growing weather."

Wold Strawberries draws on a lot of experience. "I've been growing strawberries here since the 1970s," Wold said. "My dad started in the late '50s."

Last year was as early as this year is late. Normally, Wold opens about 12 acres of berries for public picking around the 15th of June, five or six days after the first ripe strawberries are harvested.

For those first few days, not enough berries are ripening to open the patch up to the public as a "You-Pick" operation, Wold said. Therefore, the first runs through the beds are made for retail sales.

"There's nothing worse than a ticked-off picker," he chuckled. "Especially when they have to travel to get here. We want to make sure that there are plenty of ripe berries ready for folks to harvest before we open. We have everything they need here, including boxes. All they need to bring is their pocketbook."

Wold Strawberries is located off of CSAH 8 (on Berry Drive) between Spring Grove and Mabel, less than a mile north of the Iowa border.

Wold said he's got five varieties ready to harvest this season. The first to bear is called "Wendy" followed closely by "Cavendish". The long, rounded berries of midseason "L'Amour" and big blocky late-midseason "Jewel" appear next, followed by "Cabot", the latest variety that Wold grows.

Back in the patch, he walked past lush beds of Wendy, already laden with huge numbers of green-to-white berries. By now (June 14) some were also becoming pink. The leaves were a dark glossy green.

"Wendy has a lot of foliage," Wold said. Walking past row upon row of his earliest variety, he came to some shorter, more compact plants.

"These are Cabot. They produce huge strawberries." Even though the late-season berries were still green, some were already as big around as a man's thumb.

"It's fortunate that strawberries don't need insects for pollination," Wold said, "If we'd have needed bees, we'd have been up a creek without a paddle this year... (it was) just too cold.

"Each fruit stem should produce 13 berries. The first to ripen is called the King Berry, on the end of the stem. It's usually big. Then everything is in pairs from then on. The last two blossoms are sterile.

"To get the full flavor of a strawberry, they should be fully red. From fully red to fully ripe usually takes about two days. After you pick them, they may turn a little more in color, but they will not develop any more flavor. You don't want too many white tips if you're out for maximum flavor.

"Certain varieties are a bit more prone to have a white tip and still taste delicious. Then there are varieties that go from fully red to fully ripe in a day. I don't want to raise that kind. That's too tricky."

Strolling back to the Wendy rows, Wold continued, "To go from this white stage to fully ripe takes a week. Normally a strawberry will go from blossom to ripe in 28 days, but very warm weather can cut that to 21. Cold weather can delay that growing process, too.

"We'll be picking Wendy berries in a week. These, berries are good for holding up. They don't over-ripen quickly, and they're firm. It's a Canadian berry and so is Cabot. I've had extremely good luck with berries that have been developed in Canada.

"Our peak picking season lasts about 10 days. The way things are shaping up, it looks like our peak this year will probably be about June 25 to 30. The last 5 to 6 days in June should be very heavy.

"I'm open for all of that, plus a few days more. I let people come as long as they want at the end. It can easily last two weeks."

Each year, Wold tills up some of his older plots and plants a new bed or two. In the matted-row system, the plantings that will be retained for another year go through a "renovation" process.

He's planted more Jewels this year in a new plot, as well as a new midseason variety called "Sonata".

Wold also produces raspberries. "They take time," he said, "They're labor intensive. All of the types that we raise are summer varieties, so they all bear in July. I've got a red, a purple and a black raspberry here for folks to pick. They will be a little later this year as well, but they will begin ripening not too long after the strawberries are done bearing."