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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    It’s been a berry good year: Visitors pick their own strawberries at Lisbon farm

    Ryker Schacht, 6, of Ledyard, carries a handful of strawberries to his family’s basket as he visits the pick your own field at Grant's Berry Patch in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Stefany Harman, left, and her daughter Carly, 12, of Brooklyn, look for ripe strawberries in the pick your own field at Grant's Berry Patch in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Fresh strawberries for sale at the farm stand at Grant's Berry Patch in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Employees Jayla Davis, center, and Joseph Jagielo, left, join visitors in finding ripe strawberries in the pick your own field at Grant's Berry Patch in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Kerry Schacht, left, looks on as her son Rory, 4, both of Ledyard, tries a strawberry in the pick your own field at Grant's Berry Patch in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Ryker Schacht, 6, of Ledyard, shows strawberries he picked while visiting the pick your own field at Grant's Berry Patch with his family in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Employee Emma Johnston looks for ripe berries in the pick your own field at Grant's Berry Patch in Lisbon Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Lisbon ― Farmer Chris Grant said the process of growing strawberries is labor intensive.

    On Sunday, Grant, who co-owns Grant’s Berry Patch & Farm Stand in Lisbon with wife Michelle, walked to the last of 60 rows of strawberries, where he plucked a bright red, juicy strawberry from a plant a few inches off the ground.

    In spite of rain, at least 10 other “pickers” came to the berry patch in the early afternoon to take advantage of strawberry season, a fleeting harvest Grant said only lasts about three to four weeks. He said the season usually starts June 4 at the farm, but this year was pushed back to June 9 because of warm weather.

    Grant said what draws people to a pick-your-own strawberry farm, besides offering the chance for people to spend quality time with their families, is the quality of the berries.

    Grant pointed the “pickers” toward the last couple rows where he’d seen the ripest strawberries, which means there is no green on the fruit. These ones, planted last May, dripped with sweet, staining red nectar once bitten.

    There, Norwich resident Stephanie Gwozdz watched as her two nieces, 5-year-old Charlotte Carlsen and 8-year-old Grayson Carlsen, of Montville, rifled through the leaves to fill up two paper quart containers of strawberries.

    Asked what kind of strawberries they were looking for, Gwozdz pointed to the children and said “whatever they’re going to eat,” adding that usually the strawberries at Grant’s are pretty good.

    “If they pick it, they’re more likely to eat it,” she laughed.

    Strawberry picking is one of the families “favorite summer things,” Gwozdz said.

    After 10 minutes the two children had filled both containers, but were insistent, in negotiations with Gwozdz, to pick one or two more strawberries. Gwozdz acquiesced. Afterward, the three went to the wooden building housing the cash register, where Michelle Grant weighed the fruits of their labor ― 4 pounds of strawberries.

    That register is usually staffed by Ellie Grant, Chris’s mother who has worked at the farm since it opened in 1997. It began with 8 acres of land passed down to Chris by his grandmother, and has grown at least 40 acres since then.

    Ellie said when people come to the berry farm, they’re excited.

    “They all come in a rush and they go to the field and get the containers. And they pick,” she said. “Then they all come back. And they make a line here. And I encourage them to put their berries on that table, but no, they want to hold their berries.”

    Ellie said people are protective of the berries they pick.

    “That’s right,” she said. “They’re going to stand with their own berries.”

    Strawberries this year cost $4.25 a pound if picked by hand, or $4 if picking over 10 pounds. Otherwise, people can buy a pound-and-a-half for $8.25. Cash or checks only. The berry patch and farm stand is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Tips for strawberry season in Connecticut

    What is the best time to pick strawberries in Connecticut?: Early June through early July. This varies because different types of strawberries yield fruit at different times. At Grant’s Berry Patch and Farm Stand, picking is throughout the month of June.

    Should you pick at the start of the season or wait?: It depends on your tastes. Strawberries early in the season are usually larger than those in the middle or late in the season. Mid to late season berries are more medium size, with a taste that is sweet and juicy throughout.

    How do you know when a strawberry is ready to pick?: Plump, with a vibrant red color all over. If there is any green showing, leave it on the plant to ripen longer. Strawberries cannot ripen once picked.

    Should you rinse your strawberries after picking them?: Only when you’re ready to eat them. Water can lead to the strawberries spoiling faster. Until then, keep them in a cool dry place and then run them under cool water just before consuming.

    Is there a technique for strawberry picking?: It is best to handle the fruit, and plants gently. Lift up the leaves carefully to search for the fruit. When ready to pick, put your hand over the berry and gently pinch it off at the base of the stem, but leave the leafy top on the strawberry.

    Information courtesy of CTVISIT, the Connecticut Tourism Office.

    Growing strawberries

    Michelle Grant said the process to grow strawberries takes about 10 months.

    Chris Grant said he spends that time hand-weeding the plants, putting straw over them to keep them warm in the winter and “cutting runners off” them. Runners are daughter plants to the mother plant, and cutting them off helps the existing plants focus on producing more fruit.

    “It’s very labor-intensive and time-consuming,” Michelle said. “There’s not a huge return on investment.”

    Their hard work resulted in a good crop this year, Grant said.

    But once the season starts, there’s only about three weeks for them to sell this batch before they go bad, he said, and then the focus is back on getting them ready for next season.

    “I’d love to get two years of picking out of (this plot),” he said. “You should be able to get two to three years of picking off of one plot. But, recently it’s been difficult to get two years.”

    To explain why that is, Grant walked to the other end of the field, to a few rows closest to the farm stand’s checkout area, to show a patch that was planted two years ago. They were noticeably darker, and the fruit had more seeds, which Grant said means they’re no good.

    Grant said he believes these berries had been plagued by a disease called “root rot,” which he said occurs when they’re sitting in wet soil for too long. Usually, the roots have little white fibers coming off them.

    “When it has root rot, there are none,” he said.

    He uprooted a plant and broke it in half to show the inside.

    “And that, I don’t believe should be cream (colored), it should be white.”

    Root rot, he said, is one of numerous factors that can impede the production of a good strawberry crop.

    Others include birds, insects and weather. Frost can take out a field of strawberry plants when they’re in full bloom, meaning there’s lots of flowers, he said.

    “May of 2023, this whole thing was all flowers,” he said. “And if you get a frost, that can wipe you right out unless you have overhead irrigation. And that would end your whole season, because the nice flower turns black, and then they’re all done. No strawberries.”

    Grant pointed out pipes set between the rows of strawberries. They carry water from a pond almost a mile away, he said, and have sprinklers to throw the water in a 60-feet radius. He said that helps deter the frost.

    Though there’s better and less time-consuming ways to make money, Michelle explained that Chris just has a passion for growing.

    “I love to work outside. And I do enjoy being on a tractor,” Chris laughed. “I suppose I like to see what I can actually grow, too, I guess. There’s that side to that too.”

    d.drainville@theday.com

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