Tag Archives: strawberries

Enjoying the “Fruits” of my Labour

For years I’ve been obsessed with growing fabulous, fresh fruit right here in Central Alberta. Not just saskatoons and strawberries – but grapes, plums, cherries, watermelons – yes, even kiwis and apricots. And I want to grow it all in my own backyard. Well, I can’t say I’ve got all those things checked off the list yet, but this year I’ve gotten closer than ever before.

This has been a fantastic season for growing fruit. After starting from scratch 5 years ago, my backyard is now producing all kinds of different delicious fruit. One of my personal favorites has been my Pembina Plums. We had about 5 gallons of these amazing plums this year. So juicy and sweet! I don’t think there is a fruit I enjoy more!

Pembina PlumsThen there are my “Chums” – my Cherry Plums. This is the first year that they have produced, and they are quite a nice little treat.

Manor ChumsThis variety is the “Manor Chum”. They are greenish-purple on the outside, and deep purple on the inside. Very tasty.

Manor Cherry PlumAnother highlight for me this year has been my raspberries. My Wyoming Black Raspberry grew like crazy – so much so that I think I’ll have to cut them right down to the ground this fall! They have almost overgrown the north side of my greenhouse! But they sure produce a lot of raspberries! And they are the perfect compliment to my “Fall Gold” Raspberries. These yellow raspberries are so mild! It’s all the flavor of a raspberry without the ‘raspy-ness’!

Fall Gold and Wyoming Black RaspberriesOf course, my haskaps really started to produce this year. I was amazed at how densely these little berries covered the branches of my little bushes. The kids loved picking these for a little snack. (And I’m excited for when my wife bakes up a batch of haskap berries muffins this winter!

Haskap BerriesMy grapes continue to ripen – I expect to harvest them in a couple of weeks. (My grape syrup from last year has just about run out.)

Valient GrapesMy muskmelons are getting to be a good size too. (Never heard of muskmelons? Think cantaloupe.) They got a late start, but I think they’ll be big enough for a tasty dessert or breakfast in the next days.

MuskmelonAnd finally, another fruit that I’ve highly enjoyed has been my cherries. I believe I had three varieties produce this year – hoping for another two to be mature by next year.

Sour CherriesSo it’s been a pretty great year for fruit. And hopefully next year will be even better! My kiwis have grown like never before (their vines have reached my garage roof), my apricots are coming along nicely, my blueberries are surviving (though not exactly thriving), and my hazelnut tree is slowly making progress. So we shall see what next year brings…

BillyCo Junction Upick

A few weeks ago I had a real hankerin’ for some strawberries. I checked into my regular favorite upick farms, but no one was quite ready yet. So I searched  the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Associate Website for strawberry growers in my area. An lo, and behold, what should I find but a brand new upick farm. Billyco Junction, just east of Lacombe, had just opened for the first time ever. So off we headed to Billyco Junction.

My Experience

For a brand new upick farm, I must say I was very impressed. It seems they are well on their way to a successful upick farm. The first thing I noticed was their lovely yard. Everything was well kept and looking sharp. The same could be said about their fields, which leads me to the second thing I noticed: They have a little bit of everything! Fruits and vegetables galore! Just take a look at their website under ‘Garden Delights’ for a list of all that they have and plan to have – www.billycojunction.com

But on this occasion I was on the hunt for strawberries and Billyco Junction was just the only place I could find at this time of year that had them. In fact, I happened to call on their opening day. I arrived after supper and unfortunately they had already been picked clean by the day’s customers. That was a little disappointing, but certainly understandable since they were the only ones open for the season yet. But I returned a few days later and there was no lack of berries.

Billyco Junction Upick

It didn’t take very long to fill my basket (with the help of my kids). We were picking from newly planted strawberries, so the berries were a little smaller than what you would find on the second year strawberries. They were also planted in plastic mulch and had not yet been mulched with straw, so the berries were a little dirty. However, had I been just a week or two more patient, we could have been picking from the established and straw mulched berries and had larger, cleaner berries. But what can you do when you have a hankerin’ for strawberries before they’re ready? I’ll tell you… You take what you can get.

One things that I appreciate about Billyco Junction is the owners. Bill & Edie Biel are well suited for the upick business – friendly, helpful, and there when you need them! Even on the day when I came late and the berries were gone, Edie kindly took me on a small tour of their operation.

There were just a few things that are currently lacking – and I’m sure as they get a bit of experience under their belt these things will be shortly forthcoming. Parking is one – as we drove into their yard we didn’t really know where we should be parking. A sign or two would be helpful here. The other is washroom facilities. I didn’t inquire, but I didn’t notice any public washroom facilities. But like I said, I’m sure it won’t be long before these things are taken care of.

A Final Word

If you are in the Lacombe area, this is one upick farm to watch. They have already done so many things right and they’ve only been running for less than a month! With a little bit of time and experience, I am confident that Billyco Junction will become a premier upick site. I’ve already been their twice and a couple more trips this season seem to be in order! Check ‘em out for yourself!

Want to Visit Billyco Junction?

Here’s what you need to know:

Location:

East of Lacombe on Highway 12, approximately 8 km to Prentiss Road. Go south on Prentiss Road, approximately 4.4 km. Billyco Junction is on the west side of the road.

Prices:

At  the time of this article, strawberries were $3.00 per lb.

Other Info:

You can visit their website at http://www.billycojunction.com or give them a call at (403) 782-4263.

The Jungle Farm Near Innisfail

The Jungle Farm LogoToday was the Strawberry Festival at the Jungle Farm just north of Innisfail. Since that’s right in my neck of the woods, I decided to take the family out and enjoy a few strawberries. The Jungle Farm is the biggest strawberry farm I’ve visited – with about 12 acres of strawberries. However, strawberries aren’t the only thing you’ll find there. They also grow raspberries and a variety of flowers. In their little store you’ll find fresh vegetables, BC fruit and preserves. Their fields are full of all varieties of produce such as lettuce, cucumbers, pumpkins, and even artichokes. They even have a couple of greenhouses in which they they grow bedding plants and such. They are also a part of the Innisfail Growers – a group of five central Alberta farm families who cooperatively market their produce in local farmer’s markets.

My Experience

The Jungle Farm

I’m not sure how busy they are on a regular summer’s day, but today, with the Strawberry Festival going on, there was a quite a number of people there. I counted 28 cars in the parking lot. One of the fellows I talked to brought his family up from Calgary to have the experience of picking berries with his daughters. Now I personally would prefer to pick berries all my myself, but my wife would much rather have the anonymity of being in a large crowds, so she was glad we came on this day.

The strawberries themselves weren’t too bad. Quite a few berries had hail damage from a few weeks ago, so many of them didn’t LOOK their best, but the taste was still just fine. It was easy picking, with several large berries filling our basket in a matter of mere minutes. With 12 acres to choose from, it was easy to find a place that hadn’t yet been picked over.

The Jungle Farm Strawberries

For the Kids

The real story at the Jungle Farm is the attractions for the kids. My son took immediately to the big sand pile that was stocked with a variety of toys. My daughter ran over to the kid-sized wooden train that was right beside the paved tricycle track. My kids loved these attractions much more than they cared to pick strawberries. They were in tears when we had to leave (being past their nap time didn’t help though.)

The Jungle Farm Train

The Jungle Farm Train Tricycle Track

Extended Season

Now I will have to check this out for myself later this fall, but I understand there are activities going on at the Jungle even into the fall. They have a pumpkin patch (great for pictures of the kids), hayrides, a corn maze, a bay maze and more. This is also a great time to pick up some of their famous pickles. But I’ll have to tell you more about that later.

A Final Word

If I’m planning on bringing kids with me next time I pick berries, I’ll certainly go to the Jungle Farm. It’s great to have a place where the kids can have lots of fun (and dad can fill his basket with fruit). I’ve very excited to take the kids to the pumpkin patch this fall and get a few bags of cukes (as I did last year) to make some pickles. So if you AND the kids want to head out to a upick – be sure to check out the Jungle Farm.

Want to Visit the Jungle Farm?

Here’s what you need to know:

Location:

From the Innisfail overpass continue on 6 kms north. On the right-hand side you will see the U-Pick sign for The Jungle and then farther on you will see a sign for “The Old Pole Road”. At this intersection turn left (west) and go 2.5 kms. They are on the right side of the road (north). Park in the lot near the little red barn.

Produce:

Strawberries, raspberries, flowers, cucumbers, pumpkins, lettuce, onions, artichokes, and more.

Prices:

At the time of this article, strawberries were $2.50 per lb.

Other information:

You can check out their website for upcoming events and other important info. http://www.thejunglefarm.com

Red Lodge U-pick Near Bowden

Yesterday I experienced the joy of my first u-pick of the season! I had been anxiously waiting for strawberries, and my poor little strawberry patch was simply to small to keep up with my appetite. That’s why my little girl and I ventured out west of Bowden to Red Lodge U-pick.

Red Lodge U-pick Sign

My Experience

The very first thing I noticed was good signage. Between the highway and the farm there must have been at least four signs – the first on the highway 6 km before the range road. There’s nothing like clear instructions to make a u-pick day more enjoyable.

Upon arrival, we parked our car (in the clearly marked parking area) and were warmly greeted by Gary Thorpe, the owner/operator of Red Lodge U-pick. Gary gave us a basket and took us out to where the ripe strawberries were.

Red Lodge U-pick Strawberry Rows

Gary had nets over the ripe rows to keep the birds from pecking holes in all his berries. (And it’s a good thing too – any unprotected strawberries at my house have been pecked up.) You might think it would be a hassle to have a net over the berries, but the nets were easy to pull aside as we picked.

The plants were covered in berries and it was very easy to fill our basket quite quickly. The strawberries were juicy and very tasty – so much better than anything you buy in a grocery store! My daughter had a great time picking the berries (and an even better time eating them on the way home!)

A delicious strawberry

When we had filled out basket, we returned to the farm entrance and my daughter pressed the ‘the red button’ to page Gary. He appeared from another part of the farm and weighed us out. When all was said and done, we had a basket of strawberries weighing just under 4 lbs. So at $2.55 per lb. we paid our $10 and left with a large basket of strawberries and a very enjoyable experience in our memories.

Basket of Strawberries

A Final Word

Over the past couple of years I’ve been to the Red Lodge U-pick several times now. And I keep going back because I really enjoy the experience. It might not be the largest u-pick in the area, or the fanciest – it might not even be the cheapest. But in my experience, it’s certainly one of the friendliest. And for my family, that’s an extremely valuable asset.

Care to visit Red Lodge U-pick?

Here’s what you need to know:

Location:

Go 3 km west of Red Lodge Provincial Park (or 18 km west of Bowden on highway 587) to range road 31, turn south and go 3 km to the end of the road, turn east and go just 1/3 of a km to the farm. (Just follow the signs – its easy!)

Fruit:

Strawberries, raspberries, and cherries (and Gary is always experimenting with more)

Facilities:

There are bathroom facilities available (though I must admit I didn’t personally check them out).

Contact Info

Updated August 6, 2009

Red Lodge U-pick now has website – www.redlodgeupick.com, and you can get the latest information by calling (403) 224-2425.

17 Hardy Fruits That You Can Grow On The Prairies

When I was a kid growing up in central Alberta, I was pretty sure that all good fruit came out of B.C. True, I we had raspberries and strawberries on the farm, but apples, plums, cherries, grapes and the like where all “exotic” fruit that simply didn’t grow in Alberta. How mistaken I was! Or at least, how things have changed! I never would have thought that I could be growing plums, grapes and kiwis just outside of Red Deer, Alberta. But it’s true. There is a whole world of hardy fruit plants that can survive and even thrive on the northern prairies.

Grape Vines

So if you’re looking to grow some “exotic” fruit of your own, here’s my list of 17 hardy fruits that you can grow on the prairies.

1. Cherries

The University of Saskatchewan has really done great work in making cherries a viable prairie fruit. I now know of at least 10 varieties that are available. (I personally have 7 varieties.)

2. Haskap/Honeyberries

This fantastic fruit is amazing! Consider this… Can withstand -47 degree weather, ready for picking by the end of June, can produce 7 kgs of fruit per bush, and tastes great! Take a look at this article I wrote about haskap earlier.

3. Grapes

Yup, that’s right. Grapes in Alberta. Valient is the most common variety, but there are others as well. I’ve had mine for two years now, so I’ll be looking forward to my first harvest soon.

Fort Laramie Strawberries Reviewed

Fort Laramie StrawberriesThis spring I expanded my strawberry patch. In the past all I had grown was the popular June-bearing Kent strawberry, but this year I wanted to try something different. I ordered my strawberry plants from T & T Seeds (which I highly recommend) and received three varieties of strawberries – Kent, Ogallala, and Fort Laramie. Since I had only planted them this spring, I didn’t expect much in the way of produce until next year. But the Fort Laramie surprised me.