Family opens strawberry patch in rural Albert Lea

Published 3:50 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

People can come pick their own strawberries or have the family pick them for them

What started as an FFA project for a rural Albert Lea woman is starting again a generation later with her children.

Jake, Lainey and Brent Dahl, and their parents, Kate and Wes Dahl, this week opened Dahl Farm Strawberry Fields northeast of Albert Lea. The farm allows customers to pick their own strawberries, and also offers pre-picked strawberries.

Email newsletter signup

The patch will likely be open for about a month as the strawberries ripen.

Jake, 13, said one night the family was sitting at the dinner table and their mom explained how she had done a strawberry patch for an FFA project when she was a youth and asked if they would be interested in trying one, too.

The children agreed on the idea and then last year planted about 2,000 strawberry plants in 23 rows over the course of three or four days with the help of their parents and grandparents from Illinois and grandfather from Albert Lea. The plants came from Nourse Farm in Massachusetts — the same farm Kate acquired her plants from when she had a patch as a youth.

Jake said the varieties included Jewel, Darselect and Dickens, which vary by time the berries require to mature, along with sweetness.

Unlike with other plants where the fruit can be harvested right away, the first year after planting strawberry plants is mainly spent allowing the plants to get bigger and establish their roots. They picked off all the blossoms, so this year the plants would produce bigger berries.

Kate said the plants are then forced to throw their energy into making the daughter plants and in turn making the plants bigger and stronger.

In the winter, they placed straw over the plants to protect them from the cold and then in the spring moved the straw to the middle of the rows so people have something softer for their knees when kneeling down and to also help prevent weeds, said 9-year-old Lainey.

The family has done all of the weeding by hand.

They also had rolls of fabric on hand in case they needed to protect the plants from frost this spring, but they said luckily they never had to use it.

The family also brought in bees to help pollinate the plants, and once the flowers were pollinated, the bees were moved to another part of the property. The family will likely offer honey in the future.

Kate said the family has irrigation set up to help with watering, as strawberries like 1 to 2 inches of rain per week. Rain has been in short supply this year.

The fields officially opened Friday, but the family had a soft opening on Thursday. Some of the highlights so far had been visitors from as far away as Minneapolis, as well as Farmer John Ulland and his wife, Jan, of Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch. They bought 64 pounds of strawberries to make jam to sell this fall at their pumpkin patch.

When people arrive at the patch, they will be directed to check in and then pick out whatever size of container they would like to fill — they offer two- or three-quart containers or a 12-pound flat.

Once they pick that out, someone in the family will bring them out into the field and assign them a row to pick from.

Kate said people should pick from both sides of the row, making sure to gently move the leaves around so they can look for all the strawberries. They should pick the ones only that are fully red and ripened.

“Sampling is welcome; children are welcome,” she said. “We’re very family friendly. We want the kids to come out here and enjoy the fun of picking on the farm.”

Once the container is full, the pickers will be asked to leave a flag where they ended in the field, so they will know where another picker can begin.

When people pick their own berries, the cost is $3 a pound, and if someone from the family picks the berries ahead of time for customers the cost is $5 a pound.

Jake said so far people have expressed good things about the patch and have commented on the good taste of the berries and the cleanliness of the patch.

Dahl Farm Strawberry Fields is at 78335 235th St. It can be reached at 507-383-9697.

The farm is open from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday or until picked out, on Fridays from 7 a.m. to noon and on Saturdays from 6 a.m. to noon. They will also be open occasional evenings and Sundays as picking conditions allow.

Kate advised people to look on their Facebook page, which will be updated daily. Once all the ripened berries are picked for the day, that will be reflected on the page. The patch will reopen once more berries have time to ripen.

In addition to the strawberries, the family farms corn and soybeans. They are the sixth generation to live on the farm, which started in 1857.