Thursday, June 17, 2010

That's A Lot of Strawberries

My father grew up on a farm with a strawberry patch.  I'm not sure it should be called a "patch" since the definition of patch is a "small plot or piece of land, especially one that produces or is used for growing specific vegetation."  Small is a relative term.

When I was a child and learned that my dad knew about growing strawberries I suggested that we grow them.  My dad's response was something like, "Nope.  You don't want to grow strawberries. They're a lot of work."  My father was not to be argued with though I know that if I'd grown up learning how to grow strawberries, the plants I have in my little strawberry pot (in the photo) would be doing much better than they are.

Below you can read what my father's half-sister, Tressa Doyle Wilson, wrote about growing strawberries on the farm.  This is a small section from a longer letter about farm life.  She refers to "Maw and Pap" who are Tressa (Froman) and William Doyle.  "Dad" is Gust Doyle.  The farm was located on Strawberry Hill, now called Fredonia Road, outside of Stoneboro, Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

Imagining size from numbers is not one of my strengths and I wanted to understand a little more clearly how much land was planted with strawberries.  I found that one acre is 43,560 square feet, 4,842 square yards, or 9/10 the size of an American football field.  As Aunt Tressa said, "That's a lot of strawberries."

The strawberry patch had been Maw & Pap’s....  Strawberries were a cash crop in June.  I don’t know how large the patch was that Pap had.  After Maw & Pap moved to town Dad had a 2 acre patch to be picked every year.  That’s a lot of strawberries.

In the spring the 2 acre patch had to be prepared for the strawberries we’d be planting for next year’s crop.  Strawberries were a lot of work.  After the plants started to grow – they had to be hoed to keep the soil away from the heart of the plant, to destroy the weeds, and to keep the soil mellow.  We had to help the men with this chore.  Dad and Pap were excellent teachers.

When the blossoms came out on the newly planted plants, we children had to pick off every blossom so the plants could use their strength to send out runners with little plants on.  As the new plants grew and formed roots we had to set the plants in line with the mother plant.  This was to keep them from being uprooted by the cultivator.

By the time the new strawberry patch had been planted and taken care of with tender, loving care – the berries in the other patch were starting to ripen.  This meant more “back breaking” work.  The berries were picked and brought into the garage to be crated.  Each crate held 32 quarts.

After the berries were picked and crated they’d be taken by horse and wagon to the Rail Road Station downtown to be shipped to Franklin to be sold.  In later years we sold the berries to a man who took them to Pittsburgh by truck.

The berries had to be picked every other day.  We never got more than $4.00 a bushel for them.  [A bushel of strawberries equals 37 1/4 quarts.]  As the season progressed the price kept dropping – like 3 quarts for a quarter.  The pickers were paid 1¢ (yes - 1 cent) a quart for picking.  During the depression, in the early 1930's, entire families picked berries.  Many of them had to walk several miles but that didn’t keep them from being in the patch at 5 a.m.  Money was really scarce. 

What a lot of physical labor! I hope I would have been a good worker on the farm.

I have a very poor photograph (no doubt a 2nd or 3rd generation copy from a newspaper) of strawberry-picking time on the Doyle Farm.  There is a farm wagon stacked high with crates of strawberries.  Surrounding and sitting on the wagon are dozens of people.  I regret that the photograph is so bad that no one is recognizable.

Have you picked strawberries yet this year?  Do you eat them fresh, can them, or freeze them, or all three?


  1. I was going to pick strawberries this year, but the weather was bad and the place was only selling already picked berries. Did your Maw and Pap have the strawberry fields open for the public to pick or did they only sell them privately?

  2. Nancy, how wonderful to have the story from Tressa! It's amazing how much work farming of any sort is - I know I take it for granted!


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