By Rick Miller

The strawberry crop is a little late this year due to weather, but the sweet, juicy red fruit is ready for picking at the Great Valley Berry Patch. 

The cool, wet spring delayed the berries ripening for about a week, said Nadyne Litchfield, who with her husband Keith and daughter Pam own and operate the Great Valley Berry Patch near the corner of Humphrey and Peth roads. 

“We missed Father’s Day, which is always a big day for kids to come pick strawberries with their dads,” Nadyne said last week. 

The Berry Patch opened up its fields the day after the holiday. 

“Dress accordingly means bring your boots,” smiled Pam. The straw-covered paths between the rows of strawberries are good at holding water. 

“Usually by June 1, the telephone starts ringing asking when are we going to open,” Pam said. The average opening date over the past several years is June 10. “Everything will be a little late.” 

It’s somewhat lucky that it was cold, wet weather that delayed the strawberries. Warm wet weather can bring an early end to the season. 

The typical season is about three to four weeks. 

The Litchfields started growing strawberries in 1995 at their former location on Klawitter Road. They’ve been on Humphrey Road since 2003. 

“We’ve had cold, wet, rainy years before,” Keith said. By starting late, it may extend the strawberry-picking season by a week — but there are no guarantees. The business is at the mercy of Mother Nature. 

The Litchfields have several fields of different berries that ripen at different rates. There should be U-pick strawberries into July, with a late crop coming along in mid-August. 

“The first customer (June 17) morning was also the first customer this (June 18) morning,” said Nadyne last week. “They were making jam.” 

The Berry Patch pickers showed up for work that morning to pick strawberries for those who prefer not to pick their own. People put in orders for 8-quart flats and get a call when they are ready, Nadyne said. 

Hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. They started with reduced hours on June 17 to make sure there would be ample supplies of berries the following day. It worked. 

“We pick in the rain, but not when thunderstorms are going through,” Nadyne said. 

U-pick peas are a week or so away from ripening, and raspberries are expected in early July. There are also fall raspberries. Blueberries should be ready for picking by mid-July. 

Tom Rapacioli of Salamanca was making his second trip to the Berry Patch in two days on last week. Nadyne said he’s been coming for years. 

“I wash them, clean them and make jam or smush them for strawberry shortcake,” Rapacioli said last week. “I came here yesterday and got eight quarts. They’re healthy — even if you add a little sugar.” 

Business usually slows down after lunch when the sun is at its hottest. Most residents wait for cooler temperatures. 

On June 18, however, participants from National Fuel Gas conference at nearby Holiday Valley in Ellicottville came in a steady stream of pickers. They made up for some of the business lost by not being open before Father’s Day. 

Check the Great Valley Berry Patch Facebook page to see whether they are open or call 945-5221. It’s located at 5608 Humphrey Road.