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Short and sweet: Afton Apple's strawberry season abbreviated

Elin Kugel, 2, of Woodbury, helps her neighbor Cathy Gunvalson pick strawberries at Afton Apple last week. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)1 / 4
Ada Walker, 5, of Hastings, takes a break from picking strawberries Tuesday to indulge in the sweet fruit at Afton Apple Orchard in Hastings. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss2 / 4
Afton Apple Orchard strawberries are ripe for the picking, but only for a limited time. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss3 / 4
The strawberry season was shortened, but the fruit was bountiful in recent days. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss4 / 4

An unseasonably long winter and a wet beginning to summer may have shortened the strawberry picking season at Afton Apple Orchard, but it has not stopped hundreds of area residents from flocking to its fields.

"This is our second year coming and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day," said Stillwater resident Rachel Karasek, who was picking strawberries Tuesday morning with her three children. "It's easier this year. And, we always have fun."

The typical strawberry season in Minnesota begins mid June and lasts well into July. However, unruly weather, including an early May snowstorm, caused Afton Apple owner Cindy Femling to work with a much shorter harvesting window. It opened just last week.

"(The weather) just kept the fields wet," Femling said. "The wet and humid weather causes the strawberries to ripen up too fast and they can't sit where it's moist. I think last week we had two inches of rainfall in an hour."

Still recovering from hail damage from last season, a large field was re-tilled and workers planted roughly 80,000 plants, most of which will be harvested next season.

Despite bad weather, the late start to the strawberry picking season still brought the crowds, and lots of them, according to Mike Femling, the orchard's production manager. Since opening for the short season, a steady stream of customers picked through what he called the "normal" orchard and were being directed to the St. Croix Trail patch as well.

"Everyone is just looking for the best berries," Mike said.

The large influx of pickers has the operation open on a day-by-day basis. The orchard will be closed for the Fourth of July, but Cindy said it might be open for one or two more days over the holiday weekend, or until the strawberries are gone.

"It's not uncommon for the (strawberry picking) season to be four to five weeks long," Mike said. "But this year we'll have two-and-a-half weeks, maybe three. It all depends on the weather."

For up-to-date information regarding hours of operation, visit the Afton Apple Orchard Facebook page: