How did we start on this journey? I grew up on an acreage in the Clymont community just west of Edmonton. My husband, Tim, grew up on a grain and cattle farm in Turtleford, Saskatchewan. While our acreage always had plenty of animals, the extent of my knowledge of plants was very little. My Mom grew a very large garden every year and I now regret that I did not glean more knowledge from her while she was still alive. I saw having to weed my row of potatoes as a punishment!
After Tim and I got married, we decided we wanted to live in the Clymont community as well. When I was pregnant with our first child, we sold our house in Devon and began the hunt. Thank goodness for a long possession date! Eventually we found our acreage. It was the land that we initially fell in love with…and soon after our neighbours. We feel very lucky to have found this beautiful land and to call it home. Initially after having our first son (P), Tim stayed home to raise him. He found himself itching to be involved in agriculture again. The u-pick idea was born!
Why did we plant the berries we did? Tim did much research, driving to many u-picks and fruit growers, talking to them about their experiences. Initially he decided upon planting saskatoons. He grew up on saskatoon pie and jam and loved them! In the summer of 2013 we had family and friends and a few hired workers come out to help us plant 2,000 saskatoon bushes. Saskatoon bushes are generally ready for picking once they are 5 years old, so we planted 3 year old bushes intending for them to be ready to pick in the summer of 2015. I also love raspberries and had raspberry bushes in my Mom’s garden growing up, so we planted 400 raspberry bushes too.
Tim also learned that fresh strawberries are highly sought after at u-picks – but they are also a lot more work. They require re-planting every 4 to 5 years, regular weeding, and picking on your hands and knees. We had a little patch of about 10 strawberry plants in our garden and we loved eating them, as did P. We decided to take the plunge. We ordered 9000 strawberry plants. In the spring of 2014 shortly after the birth of our second son (L), and with the help of hired workers, friends, and neighbours, we planted those strawberries – with a mechanical planter until it broke down and then by hand! We had more plants than we had anticipated needing for the plot we had cultivated so we had to plant in two different spots! Because strawberries need to fallow for a year (i.e. the land needs to be left unplanted for a year), we will need to plant another plot of strawberries next summer so that when those plants are fallowing, we have more plants to pick from in another spot!
With our second son, Tim is back at work and I am the one staying home. It has been a steep learning curve to say the least! I am learning a lot about plants and plant maintenance and I anticipate learning a lot more about that as well as business from an agricultural perspective. Last summer, I put L in the carrier many times and picked weeds and berries. Tim rose early in the morning before the sunrise to pick weeds and berries while the sun rose before heading off to work! I must say, it is true that strawberries are much more work. But the fruit is so delicious! Strawberries from the grocery store are large but often completely flavourless. These strawberries are smaller but oh so sweet! When we shared some of our strawberries last summer, many people commented that they tasted like they had sugar on them! They are so juicy and sweet that when we bake or make jam with them, we have to modify the recipes and reduce the sugar added!
I love adding rhubarb to my saskatoon and strawberry recipes for a bit of tartness so we have also decided to order some rhubarb plants that we will be planting this spring. We have also been asked about haskap plants and so are looking at planting some of those this summer as well! I am excited about the prospect of having so many different kinds of fruit (especially berries) in the yard that I can pick fresh and eat myself and feed to my children! We think it will be fun to pick a new fruit or two each year to try to plant and see how it does in our climate and whether our customers enjoy the fruit. Then those that do well, we might plant more of in the future!
Our best times as a family are often when we are working together. Building and maintaining the u-pick gives us a chance to work together with our children. P has already been out in the field last summer helping us to pick strawberries. While weeding, we set him up with sand toys at the end of the row but he took off his hat and started filling it with strawberries. We just need to teach him to pick the red ones and not the white ones! Both of our boys love saskatoons. When we make white chocolate saskatoon scones, P picks the saskatoons out to eat and leaves the rest behind. We are determined that our children will grow up knowing how food is grown and produced. And that they will learn how to work hard. With hard work (such as weeding and picking) comes many rewards (such as plump, bountiful, delicious fruit)! We hope you will join us on our journey as we raise our family and grow our u-pick.