Early strawberry season draws pickers; warm weather worries field owners

ARLINGTON — Mother Nature is the boss at Biringer Farm, and she doesn’t keep a consistent work schedule.

This year, strawberries got the early shift. Normally, the month-long picking season starts mid-June, longtime farm owner Dianna Biringer said. This year, berries on her farm at 21412 59th Ave. NE in Arlington were ripe by May 30.

Unless the weather cools suddenly and drastically, strawberry season in Snohomish County likely will be winding down by the end of June, when it’s usually just getting into full swing, she said.

Biringer worries folks won’t make it out in time for prime picking but will show up in late June or early July to discover the berries are gone.

“It’s just unpredictable,” she said. “Every year, you never know. With this heat, everything ripens real quick.”

Other farms around the county are opening their strawberry patches early this year.

Bailey Vegetables in Snohomish has three acres of U-pick strawberries at 12711 Springhetti Road. They were able to open for a couple days at the end of May and opened again Thursday, owner Don Bailey said. The fifth-generation family farm grows mostly vegetables but added strawberries four years ago.

“It’s early this year,” Bailey said. “It’s definitely early. We’ll just see how many people come in with the berries.”

On Thursday, the ripe red berries at Biringer Farm fascinated a trio of 3-year-old girls in colorful dresses and rubber boots. Norah and twins Ava and Layla quickly lost interest in actually picking the berries, but delighted in skipping up and down the neat rows of plants. They pointed out the shiniest fruits and helped each other clean dirt off their legs, often making more of a mess.

Kelly Dowdall, Norah’s mom, planned the trip as much for the adventure as for the sweet strawberries she picked to take home. She came to the farm with her friend, Dora Watson, Ava and Layla’s mom. Dowdall is from Redmond and Watson from Everett. They’d never been to Biringer Farm before, but thought it would be a good chance for the girls to enjoy the sunshine.

While their daughters explored nearby, Dowdall and Watson worked on their picking technique and filled their baskets with fruit. A fellow picker offered some advice that Watson found helpful: “Everyone’s picking on the sides of the plants, and there are some nice big ones in the middle.”

“That’s good advice,” Dowdall said. “And taste test. That’s good advice, too.”

Amy Hall, of Seattle, brought her 5-year-old daughter, Annabelle, to the farm Thursday, as well.

“We’re making a day out of it,” she said. “There’s nothing like fresh, local strawberries. We make jam and freeze them for the year.”

Having picked strawberries at Biringer the past couple years, they’ve learned that the darker and redder, the better. As they carried their flats of berries to the car, Hall wasn’t sure how many would survive the drive home.

She suggested that anyone looking for perfect strawberries — the kind that are bright and sweet and seem to fall off the plant — start picking soon.

“Get them while you can, because they’re short-lived,” she said. “And don’t worry about getting dirty. Just have fun.”

Seeing families out on the farm is one of Biringer’s favorite things.

“I just love watching them,” she said. “The kids come in with dirt on their mouths and a hint of red.”

U-pick berries are less than half of the farm’s business. They hire picking crews to tackle most of the acreage, and those strawberries are sold on site, at farmers markets and produce stands, and to processors. The farm is short-staffed on professional pickers this year, Biringer said. Ideally, they’d have at least 100 people working during the next couple months. So far, they’ve had about 30 regular pickers. Still, the hourly staff and returning pickers keep the farm running smoothly.

“We have such a wonderful crew,” Biringer said. “Some of them are working around the clock for us, and we love them to pieces.”

Mike Biringer, Dianna’s husband of 53 years, grew up in a farming family. He’s the second generation to run the farm, and their son also works there now. The 78-year-old couple’s farm used to be in Marysville, but they moved to Arlington a decade ago. Their 60-acre property includes 17 acres of strawberries, 17 acres of raspberries and smaller patches of tayberries and blackberries. They’ve done pumpkin patches in the past, but decided to turn their focus back to berries when they moved to Arlington.

The goal was to be a little less busy, Dianna Biringer said. If anything, things are more hectic than ever this year. There’s just no arguing with Mother Nature, she said.

“We need people to come out a pick now,” Biringer said. “The crop is on.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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