FREE SOIL — Julie Toole of Branch visited the U-Pick Strawberry patch at Orchard Market for the first time Monday.

Toole along with her granddaughter, Olivia Outwater spent time together picking and creating memories. Toole said that she has not been strawberry picking since about the age of 10 and was having a blast picking with Outwater, who actually went strawberry picking with her mom the day before.

Toole said Monday was just a nice opportunity to spend time her granddaughter. The two are planning on using the strawberries to make strawberry shortcake, freezer jam and strawberry pancakes.

Bill Sturgeon, co-owner of Orchard Market, said it has been a pretty good season overall, the berries have been very nice and have gotten better after the first picking.

“That is unusual,” he said. “Up until this point (Monday) we have had perfect weather in the 70s to 80s, dry (we can irrigate if we need to). We did get rain when we needed it, over all it been a pretty good season.”

He said people coming out to U-Pick have been pleased with the berries both on the store side and on the U-Pick side.

The U-Pick is about four acres of land that are planted with Wendy and Jewel types of berries.

Ken Johnson of Ludington said he heads out to the U-Pick every couple of years for fresh strawberries. He said he will mix the berries with rhubarb he grows to make strawberry-rhubarb pies. He will freeze some and also enjoy strawberry shortcake.

“The strawberry season in general has been up and down,” Sturgeon said. “We had a lot of winter damage. More so than normal. We had a few weeks with no snow cover which froze the crown of the strawberry plant and made for a thinner crop.”

“This spring, we had a hard frost which took out the king bud, which is your first strawberry on some of the plants, not all of them. That gave us a littler bit of a later start than normal, but with this heat it is shortening the season.”

Michaela Malkowski who works out at the U-Pick said the patch has been busy.

“We have been very busy,” she said. “I think with everyone not being so busy, they are getting out to pick strawberries.”

Sturgeon said people coming out to the U-Pick have been pleased, and he said Orchard Market is hoping it can prolong the season a littler further.

“We were hoping to make it to the Fourth of July with our U-Pick and our regular strawberries,” he said. “The weather will dictate that. These high temps for such a prolonged stretch might shorten our season.

“We are hoping it doesn’t, but it’s kind of in God’s hands now.”

Sturgeon has been very pleased with the season to this point.

“The quality has been good, berries have looked great.”

The U-Pick hours are from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sturgeon said that will be the hours for as long as we can go.

“Weather will determine how long we can go with strawberries.”