“The joy in doing this is in getting to eat some of them.”
The juicy strawberries brought a hint of sugary sweetness to the air, as fruit began ripening on the vine at the Tenth Street Orchard last week.
“The joy in doing this is in getting to eat some of them,” said Jonathan Conard, smiling.
The tall, lean man was wearing a strawberry red T-shirt advertising his family’s new business venture.
He was reveling in the beautiful May morning as birds chirped overhead, perhaps picking up the sweet scent. Conard bent to pull weeds, with the old barn with peeling red paint, off in the background.
The fruits of Conard’s labor will literally pay off in coming weeks, when customers arrive at his family’s new you-pick-it orchard.
Past the barn, baby apple trees are getting their start. In another area, black berries will also be part of the harvest next year.
Located at the corner of Washington Street and 10th Avenue, on the west side of this small town 29 miles north west of Hutchinson, this will be their first strawberry harvest.
“They’ll turn quick in the next few weeks,” said Conard, a biology professor at Sterling College. His botany background comes in handy as he applies the science to growing fruit.
Two years ago Jonathon and his wife Melissa, who is a nurse practitioner at Sterling Medical Center, decided to plant 2,000 strawberries in 20 rows on part of their eight acres on the edge of town. They chose All Star and Flavor Fest, two varieties that do well in the region.
A labor intensive job, they appreciated the help of their daughters Katie, 10, Jenna, 5, and their parents Joyce Conard and the late Mark Conard.
Advice on planting a strawberry crop came from an uncle, David Fieser, who once had a you-pick-it patch at Norwich.
“He gave me advice on production methods. It helped a lot,” Conard said. He also toured a strawberry farm in eastern Kansas for ideas.
The grand opening is scheduled for May 20. Strawberry season will last through mid-June. Along with people picking their own, they will sell excess berries at area farmer’s markets.
“Part of the fun is coming out and picking,” Conard said. They offer picking containers and will sell the strawberries for $2.50 to $3 a pound.
“That’s comparable to prices around Kansas,” he said.
The plants will produce well for about three years and they will begin replanting and rotating in a continual process. Conard keeps them watered with drip irrigation. The plants are not organic certified. They were sprayed for weeds last year to get the plants established. However the strawberries have not been sprayed this year.
Darren Busick, K-State Extension agriculture and natural resource agent, said he was happy to hear about the new you-pick-it strawberry farm.
“It makes sense to have this in the area,” said Busick “It interfaces urban and rural, and meshes the city with agri-tourism. It’s good for families to see a strawberry farm and let them pick. They are going to taste better right off the vine.”
Years ago Busick helped plant a big strawberry patch for picking about a mile and half north of Yoder. However, the farmer didn’t plan on replanting and it died off.
Friday afternoon Conard was on his knees weeding, getting ready for the May 20 grand opening. The weeks rain had been good for the plants.
For Saturday’s event they are planning a small festival which they are calling the Tenth Street Orchard Vintage Market. For one time only they will be charging a $2 fee to attend.
They have invited 45 antique, vintage and hand-craft vendors from as far away as Nebraska to set up at their old red barn. There will also be food vendors with barbecue, kettle corn and baked goods.
The picking will begin that day.
People will be able to pick for free from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, throughout the season. They can call any time to get permission to pick at 785-210-6440.