WILTON, N.Y. — At one time, John Ariel’s popular you-pick strawberry season would have been wrapping up by late June.
Now, thanks to late-season varieties and a little help from Mother Nature, he expects fields to keep producing well into July.
“It looks like we’re going to get five weeks of picking in,” said Ariel, co-owner of Ariel’s Farm, just north of Saratoga Springs. “We’ll probably pick through Sunday, July 16. It looks like a good year.”
On the second day of summer, local resident Jennifer Jones couldn’t wait to visit the farm’s berry patches with her 3-year-old daughter, Violet.
“I’m not thrilled with produce in the grocery stores,” Jennifer Jones said. “I love picking local things. I knew she’d enjoy it, and strawberries are her favorite fruit.”
Ariel’s “we aim to please” attitude and ability to adapt and try new things has allowed this farm to meet consumer demand and stay ahead of the game. It’s been in business for almost 70 years.
Ariel’s father, Francis, founded the farm in 1949. John took over 32 years ago.
The site includes six varieties of berries on 3.1 acres, an agricultural haven in the midst of one of upstate New York’s fastest-growing communities, with many large subdivisions nearby.
John Ariel’s favorite type of berry, which he grows the most of, is AC Valley Sunset, a late-season strawberry that originated in Nova Scotia.
“It’s got the best flavor and it’s also the biggest,” he said. “It’s a lighter colored berry.”
“People like the fruitier flavor,” his wife, Cathy Ariel, said. “It’s almost a mix between a strawberry and melon.”
However, another late-season variety called Malwina is just starting to ripen, which has increased the farm’s picking season and profits considerably.
“They aren’t a huge berry and they aren’t the sweetest, but they have the best strawberry flavor I’ve ever had,” John Ariel said. “I buy them, and all my berries, from Nourse Farms in central Massachusetts.”
Other varieties found on the farm are Jewel, a traditional favorite, along with AC Wendy, Cavendish and Flavorfest.
“When I choose varieties I look at disease resistance, production, flavor and winter hardiness, and not necessarily in that order,” John Ariel said. “I’m always looking for those traits.”
Strawberries are the farm’s main business. As summer progresses, it also provides a full range of other produce people can pick up at the farm’s busy roadside stand, including peas, beans, melons, pumpkins and squash.
Recently, Ariel’s has employed modern technology to increase business by installing a pair of greenhouses for raising hydroponic tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The structures, heated by natural gas and wood, also make a longer growing season possible, from mid-February through late October.
In addition, plants grown inside aren’t as vulnerable to disease, which quite often occurs during wet, cool months.
This spring’s heavy rains raised considerable concern about the fate of Ariel’s strawberries. But recent stretches of bright sunshine have come to the rescue.
“It’s fantastic!” John Ariel said.
“When the weather’s nice, people come out in droves,” Cathy Ariel said.
Just like customers, they also like to enjoy the fruit of their labors. John Ariel’s favorite way to eat strawberries is simply fresh off the plant.
“My favorite recipe is strawberry rhubarb cream pie,” Cathy Ariel said. “Also, a strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I have customers pass them on to me.
“I kind of bribe them to bring me a pie or crisp and they bring me the recipe instead,” she said, smiling.