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Ripe for the pickin'

Like finding a $20 bill under the sofa cushions, thousands of enthusiasts will find treasures from Sequim's farm soil this summer.

The U-pick farms opened their fields for berry connoisseurs this past week.

Many farms open between June and October, but visitors have wasted no time and quickly began filling buckets and baskets with early berry crops.

Six-year old Ellie VonBerg from Bremerton visited Graysmarsh Farm for her family's annual berry trip.

"If you open up the green, that's where you'll find the really red ones," Ellie said while pulling out a ripe, bright-red, strawberry.

Her sister Abbie, 10, said she "can't wait to make strawberry lemonade."

The berries are picked to be used for recipes, as gifts, for an adventure or for old time's sake.

Wendy Davis of Sequim said her first job, at age 12, was picking berries at Cameron's Strawberry Farm. She continues to go to the farm for strawberries.

"I get them because they are delicious and I love them on angel food cake," Davis said.

Heintz Berry Farm owner Daniel Heintz said he sees older and younger generations come for blackberries.

"Younger kids come to see where their food comes from and meet the farmer," Heintz said.

"Grandmothers come because it's a habit. They've been doing it all their lives."

Cindy Clark of Port Angeles believes berry picking puts her in touch with generations before.

"I think I was born 1,000 years too late for the hunter-gatherer society because I love picking fruit," Clark said.

She picks strawberries three times each summer.

"I'm from Michigan, so strawberry shortcake is a staple and part of the food group."

People's health plays a big part in the sales of berries, too, said Karen Nelson, owner of Blueberry Hill in Carlsborg.

"Blueberries do a number of things, with their anti-oxidants being good for the heart and more," Nelson said.

"(Doctors) tout them a lot for preventing degenerative diseases."

How the berry is treated beforehand is important to growers and pickers, too.

Some U-pick farms are certified organic. Others grow their crops organically but do not become certified because of the time and cost involved.

Organic farms avoid non-natural chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers.

Sidne Cameron, co-owner of Cameron's, said her strawberry farm is not organic but they try to limit their chemical use.

"Nothing goes on them but water after blooming," she said.

Blueberry Hill deters birds and insects with chickens.

Nelson says the chickens' movement through the beds keeps pests from eating her blueberries.

Deer still come in, though, and predatory birds attack her chickens, she said.

That's why she has two dogs.



Taste

Tender love and care aside, Graysmarsh employee Dan Doren said two things count with customers and good berries.

"Size and taste; that's all that would matter to me," Doren said.

Color and holding up to being frozen matter more to Cameron's berry pickers than the berries' shape.

The Shuksan strawberry now ripening at Cameron's farm grows in odd shapes.

"People don't seem to mind," Cameron said.

"It's all about the taste."

Heintz believes proper irrigation, once a week for eight to 10 hours, makes a difference.

"The flavor is a little sweeter with consistently watered blackberries because wild berries are drier," he said.

At Blueberry Hill, Nelson said picking at the right time is essential for a sweet taste. She picks them after they've changed from a pinkish-red tone to blue.

"They have a powdery white on them before being washed," Nelson said.

"They look blue on the bush, but when you do anything with them they turn purple."



Timetable

Even though strawberries are ripening now, some farms will not open until July.

Harsh weather could end some farms' berry season early.

"If it gets real hot in July, then that fries the berries and we'll shut down," Cameron said.

A typical berry season for Cameron's is about four weeks.

Because of Sequim's unique rain and snow barrier of the Olympic Mountains, berry season can last as long as October.

"If we haven't had heavy winters, the blackberries last well into school starting," Heintz said.

"I have a lot left over in the fall."

His berries will last until the first frost of the fall/winter.

"They may not taste as good but can still be eaten," Heintz said.

Angeleen Corbett, who visited Graysmarsh from Eastern Washington, said she wanted to get berries as soon as possible.

"I hope lots of people will come out because it'd be a shame to see so many great-tasting berries go to waste," Corbett said.



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