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Berry picking season peaking early

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LISBON - Summer doesn’t really start for Gina C. Weldon until she heads outside to pick fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

“The true arrival of summer is when you’re out picking berries,” the Gouverneur resident said Thursday. “For me, it’s therapeutic. It’s relaxing.”

Ms. Weldon was among dozens of people who spent a warm, breezy morning gathering juicy berries at Merkley’s U-Pick, Dollar Road.

Most customers drove away with quart-sized containers filled with red raspberries. Some picked black raspberries and blueberries which have just started to ripen.

“It’s such a treat to pull these out in the winter time,” Ms. Weldon said, noting that she’ll freeze some berries and use the rest for jam.

Mark A. Merkley, co-owner of Merkley’s Farms, said his berry crops are about 10 days ahead of schedule this year. He’s advising customers to head out soon if they want red raspberries which will ripen quickly in the heat that’s forecasted for the next few days.

“Everything is early this year. The hot weather we got in March kicked it into gear,” Mr. Merkley said.

An irrigation system is used to provide enough water to the plants.

“It’s been hot and dry. We’ve been pumping water every day,” Mr. Merkley said.

Strawberries arrived early and ended in mid-June this year instead of early July. The red raspberries should still be available for another week or so. The black raspberries just started to ripen and should last longer into the season. The purple raspberries will ripen last.

Depending on the weather, blueberries may last into mid-August. The raspberries and blueberries both sell for $2.95 a pound.

Sara L. Merkley runs the check-out stand next to the berry patches and said business was especially brisk Wednesday when many people were off work for Independence Day.

“The morning was insane,” Miss Merkley said. “I’ve never seen it that busy for raspberries on the Fourth of July.”

Marilynn J. Harper, Heuvelton, said she heads to Merkley’s patches about once a week, usually joined by a friend or two who share her passion for picking.

“I like being outside. I have some bushes at home, but they don’t produce as much as these,” she said.

Her berries will find their way into muffins, coffee cake and jam.

Christopher S. LeBarge, a Lisbon native who now lives near Oneonta, visited the patches with his wife, three children and his mother.

“I’ll probably make a pie,” Mr. LeBarge said. “Maybe a cheesecake.”

Rachel A. Lukich, Potsdam, prodded her two children, Jackson L. Snee, 10, and Bella L. Snee, 8, to spend more time filling their containers and less time eating the berries. Both children said they like raspberries better than strawberries.

“They’re not as messy and they don’t stain your hands,” Jackson said. “I’ll probably eat a whole bucket in the car on the way home.”

Merkley’s is open from 9 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For information about berry-picking conditions, Merkley’s can be reached at 528-0934.

Raspberry picking is also available by appointment at Martin’s Farms, Stockholm. The red and black raspberries sell for $2.60 a pound.

The purple raspberries will sell for less when they’re available, but a price has not been set yet, grower Daniel Z. Martin said. Customers can stop by the Martin’s vegetable stand, 11 Needham Road, or call 265-1246.

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