Berry good season

You pick farms enjoying late, bountiful harvest

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June 26, 2014 | 10:45 am

One day each summer my family and a few good friends pile into the car, prepped with sunscreen and bug spray. We trek north from Cedar Rapids just past Independence, down a gravel road, signs along the road guiding us until we pull up in front of Bagge Strawberries.

The kids bolt out of the car, scoop up a basket for picking and hop onto the back of a golf cart that shuttles us out into the field. We select our row and start the hunt for the tempting berries in just the perfect shade of red.

The berries are delicious, so delicious that my 6-year-old has a hard time stopping herself from eating every berry she picks.

The day is like a summer dream.

Blue skies go on for miles. A light breeze cools us as we work. The berries are so perfectly sun-sweetened you almost can’t believe it until you taste one for yourself.

Warm and fresh. We dream about strawberries for every meal.

Picking our own strawberries has been a tradition for the past four years. It easily is one of the most anticipated days of summer vacation.

This year’s strawberry season, which typically lasts about 21 days, is now. Unlike 2013, when the berries were gone by mid-June, picking this summer likely will go on just past the Fourth of July.

“Mother Nature rules,” says Liz Thayer at Heartland Farms near Waterloo. “Right now the berries are perfection.”

She encourages pickers to come early in the day when they open at 8 a.m. or in the evening to avoid the hottest hours.

The recent rains haven’t dampened picking plans. The rows are lined with straw to keep even the smallest pickers mud-free.

Bagge Strawberries likely will see about 7,000 pounds of berries picked per day during the peak of the season.

“We have a really good crop,” owner Shelley Bagge says. “They taste good, they look good.”

The Bagges pride themselves on the juiciness of the strawberries, something unique to homegrown fruits.

“They’re red all the way through, no white,” she said.

Expect to pay about $1.65 per pound for “you pick” strawberries. Pre-picked berries are available as well. We think, though, that heading out to the field is half the fun.

Once picked, the berries will stay fresh for about four days. Don’t rinse the berries with water until you are ready to use them.

Strawberries also can be frozen individually on a baking sheet before placing them in a bag to prevent them from sticking together.

Our one day of strawberry picking yielded 13 pounds of strawberries.

My mother-in-law made the most delectable strawberry pie and we whipped up some strawberry jam.

We’ve all had more strawberry smoothies than we can keep track of.

And, I’m honestly ready to head back out for more.

Pick your berries

Bagge Strawberries: 2029 170th St., Independence; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; $2.35 a pound for pre-picked and $1.65 per pound for “you pick;” Baggestrawberries.com; (319) 334-3983 or (319) 334-3934

Heartland Farms: 5111 Osage Rd., Waterloo; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; $4.75 per quart pre-picked and $1.79 per pound “you pick;” Heartlandfarmswaterloo.com or (319) 233-7401

Koehn Berries: 13814 220th St, West Union; 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; $2.60 per pound or $4.50 per quart for pre-picked and $1.65 per pound for “you pick;” Koehnberries.com or (563) 422-3716

Pride of the Wapsi: 14600 305th Street, Long Grove, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Prideofthewapsi.com; (563) 285-8180; quantities limited this year

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