Couple say berry farm a satisfying experience

Berry-picking season came early this year in much of the Prairies.

Saskatoons and other fruit, such as cherries, raspberries and strawberries, were ripe two to three weeks ahead of their usual time.

It meant a good year for Lots Berry Farm of Saskatoon.

“This is probably one of the most amazing years,” said Brad Hazelwanter, who opened the hobby saskatoon berry farm in 1997 with his wife, Robin.

“Last year was an amazing year as well, but this year just topped the charts.… June is when we had our first commercial pickers coming out and then we started our U-Pick after that.”

The six acre farm is covered in 3,500 saskatoon berry bushes.

A good year yields about two one-gallon pails full per bush, but Brad and Robin saw those yields double this year.

“In this case right here we always have to be on the conservative side, so we’re looking at pretty close to 15 tonnes of berries this year,” said Brad.

Brad and Robin would rather see the berries picked and taken home than go to waste, so they were offering price breaks and flexible picking times.

“They’re long days, there’s no doubt about it,” Robin said. “We’re flexible, we’re both retired.”

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Brad had the idea to develop the area into a saskatoon berry farm after reading an article, decades earlier, in Harrowsmith magazine.

“It goes back to a dream of mine years and years ago…. I saw the article and I thought, ‘I’m going to go and see the people,’ ” said Brad.

The farm has come a long way since its early development.

Robin remembers years of picking weeds and thorough irrigation, but says it has all been worth it.

“Mowing is really the only maintenance we have now. For us, it’s just a couple weeks of the year and it’s fun,” she said.

The farm contains three varieties of saskatoon berries: Martin, Thiessen and Northline.

The plants were one of the first generations of genetic modification when Brad and Robin bought them.

“Prairie Plant Systems was just starting up when we were doing this and we went with clone stock from the mother trees. It’s supposed to be really, really good and it turned out fantastic,” said Brad.

The pickers are also happy with the product as many come back year over year.

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The Hillcrest Hutterite colony returned to pick this year and were so impressed they contacted the West Bench colony to come out and pick too.

Helen Walter is a veteran berry picker from West Bench and drove up with many from the Cypress Hills area after hearing about the overwhelming quantity and quality available.

“I’ve only seen them this big once in Manitoba. We went picking there once. I’m sure it was nearly 20 years ago,” Walter said.

“It’s nice to pick; they come off easy and the size is right and they’re all ready. It’s an excellent pick.”

Walter said they rarely pick out in the wild anymore because of safety concerns. A cougar was seen recently in their area.

Brad said the berries that weren’t picked during the season are left for Mother Nature.

“You’ll see that the wild animals will actually start coming in and start foraging,” he said.

“Coyotes are absolutely amazing, watching them eat saskatoon berries. They sit on their haunches and they actually shovel it into their mouths.”

He said the animals tend to come after picking season when the people have left.

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