John Ilyes used to think people picked their own strawberries because times were tough financially, but then he noticed it really depended on how nice the weather was.
And the weather has been so exceptional this year, the Charles Ilyes Family Farm opened up earlier than usual, and customers could pick their own fresh strawberries on Saturday.
Normally the picking season begins Memorial Day Weekend, but Ilyes said the warmer weather brought out this year's crop sooner.
John Fitz, of Fitz's Windsor Road Farm Market, expects the picking season to last longer this year since it began earlier than he's ever seen in his 37 years at the farm.
"The berries are definitely early. I've never picked this early
Pick-your-own strawberries begins on Wednesday at
Fitz's, 510 Windsor Road.
Early pickers: At the Charles Ilyes Family Farm, a small crowd formed on Saturday from only the advertisement on a sign at the farm at 1181 Bucktail Lane in North Codorus Township.
"It's just a neat family day where you can enjoy the outdoors and pick your berries outdoors and enjoy them," said Ilyes.
"The first thing you want to do when you get out in a patch is try one. I still think the York County strawberries are the sweetest there are."
Picking your own strawberries at the Charles Ilyes Family Farm costs about $2 per pound, which evens out to about $4 for a quart-sized container. Buying strawberries at the stand is about $5.50 per quart, so there is a slight savings to picking your own, Ilyes said.
"If you have a rainy, wet year, people will buy them more often," said Ilyes. "If you have nice days, more people will tend to pick them. We thought maybe people would pick more when the economy is bad, but that doesn't seem necessarily true. It seems to be more weather related than financially related."
Warm temperatures: Since weather in March was so warm, the blossoms opened earlier than normal, so they needed extra attention, Ilyes said.
"We're seeing more of the deeper summer bugs already, and we have the barn swallows back and they're eating the bugs," Ilyes said.
Barn swallows -- as their name suggests -- nest in the barns and have a steady diet of insects, he said.
"They're the most favorite bird of every fruit and vegetable farmer, because you want them to destroy the insects," Ilyes said.
Ilyes expects the next two weeks to be the most crowded for pick-your-own strawberry season, and maybe even a third week after that as well.
The length of time for picking strawberries depends on the size of the crop.
"As long as people can find them, we try to let them keep going," said Ilyes. "Every year it's different."
Fitz said the weather really makes a difference with the fruit crop.
"The evenings are cool so that slows them up a bit, and we haven't had that 90 degree weather that really pushes them," Fitz said.
He estimates he lost anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent of his crop to frost, but it will still be better than last year's strawberry crop, which suffered from the effects of freezing and heavy rain.
"As long as we don't get a lot of rain, they'll come through it all right, I believe, the crop definitely looks better than last year," he said.
Fitz grows his strawberries on plastic, a method more commonly used in Florida and California to maximize the number of plants per acre.
"I've been doing it on plastic for probably 10 to 15 years," Fitz said. "I can put more plants per acre. I plant them closer together and I have to spray less which saves me money, and it keeps the weeds down."
The cost to plant is a bit more expensive because of the plastic, but Fitz finds it increases the size of his crop, and the size of the actual strawberries.
"We can't get close to the kind of production they have in California and Florida because of our climate," Fitz said. "I've heard the average in California is 50,000 pounds per acre, which we probably don't get 10 percent of that in our state, because we just can't pick that long."
-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.