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Strawberries ripe for the picking at Afton Apple Orchard

Joe Conlin and his daughter, Maggie, 18 months, sifted through strawberry bushes Wednesday at Afton Apple Orchard on the hunt for the perfect berries. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)1 / 4
Dozens of area residents flocked to Afton Apple Orchard Wednesday, the second full day of the strawberry picking season. The orchard opened for the summer on Tuesday. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)2 / 4
Woodbury resident Sarah Parker, 9, filled a cardboard box of strawberries alongside her mother, Sharon, Wednesday at Afton Apple Orchard. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)3 / 4
Thousands of berries await eager pickers at Afton Apple Orchard as the strawberry picking season began Tuesday. Owners expect a full four-week season. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)4 / 4

A sea of small red berries attracted dozens of pickers Wednesday for the second full day of the summer strawberry season at Afton Apple Orchard.

Starting about a week later than usual, the orchard’s owner, Cindy Femling, said the unseasonably cold winter and recent heavy rainfall has slightly affected the strawberry crop. However, she said she anticipates a full four-week season.

“We’re excited to get this going for another season,” Cindy said.

This year, visitors to the orchard are directed to the St. Croix Trail picking fields about a mile down the road where 13 acres — roughly 50,000 strawberry bushes — await pickers.

The berries, Mike Femling said, are ripening on first-year bushes that were planted during last year’s picking season.

“These ones are going to be so good,” he said. “These are the first batch with these bushes and are ripening so well.”

As the initial crop from the bushes, many berries are larger and brighter in color.

The Conlin family, who were spending the day in the area, trekked from Lakeville to take advantage of a full field of strawberries.

“We’d done this a lot as kids over in Cottage Grove when there were strawberry fields,” Joe Conlin, a former Cottage Grove resident, said. “We saw the signs for the Afton Apple Orchard and thought this would be a fun thing to do with the kids.”

Joe and Misty, and their two children, Maggie, 18 months, and Jaiden, 5, soaked up the sunshine and 80-degree weather and piled berries into two cardboard cartons.

Down the field, Woodbury resident Sharon Parker and her daughter, Sarah, 9, were picking strawberries prior to a family outing.

“We’re heading out of town this weekend and wanted to get some strawberries before they were all picked,” Sharon said.

Sarah, who switched between picking and eating the strawberries, said her haul was “delicious.”

While rain and humidity continue to be in the forecast, Cindy said she expects the crop to hold their own.

“So far, everything is good,” she said. “It’s when we get those 90-degree days and humidity that it’s not good for the strawberries. But everything seems to be ripening fine. But it’s all up to Mother Nature.”

Afton Apple Orchard is expected to be open seven days a week, weather depending. For up-to-date details about conditions of strawberries and hours of picking, visit the orchard’s Facebook page, or call 651-436-8385.