- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

ROSEDALE, Ind. (AP) - Her strawberry patch busy with pickers, Judi Ditzler paused for a mid-afternoon break, headed for a picnic table beneath a large shade tree.

It was a rare moment of rest for Ditzler, whose Rosedale-area orchard and “you pick” Cherrywood Farm have been hopping since strawberry season began in mid-May.

That’s a smidgen earlier than usual. Despite the recent heat wave that ruined some of the crop and last weekend’s rainfall, picking will be over by the end of next week, she said. The strawberry season usually isn’t finished before the end of June.

“We definitely did push the season up a little,” said Ditzler, whose blue jeans were stained with berries.

Customers drive to Ditzler Orchard from surrounding communities and as far away as Chicago to snap the berries right off the plants. Six acres of strawberries lie in more than 300 rows marked by variety.

It’s a fun way to provide families with fresh, nutrient-rich foods while supporting the area’s economy, Ditzler said.

“Fresh air, antioxidants, you can’t beat it,” she said. “It’s all good.”

Picking fruits was a summertime activity for Gina Pugh and her cousins when they were children.

On Monday afternoon Pugh brought her children Garrett, 8, Aubrey, 5, and Brody, 2, to the orchard, joined by her mother, Sandy Kelley.

The group pulled up in a wagon driven by employee Tracy Thompson, who pointed them to an unpicked area in the center of the patch.

Pugh said picking the berries was a different way for the young ones to stay active over summer vacation.

“They like to eat fresh fruits, so this gets them into what they’re eating a little more than just buying at the grocery store,” she said.

Both Garrett and Aubrey looked forward to putting their strawberries in ice cream.

“I’m finding tons,” Garrett said.

As the older siblings dug their hands in the dirt, Brody woke up from a nap in Pugh’s arms to taste some strawberries.

After strawberry season comes black raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches and apples. The year wraps up with pumpkins in September and October.

“Looks like it’ll be something to pick all season long,” Ditzler said.

Pre-picked strawberries are available for purchase down the road in the orchard’s store. That’s where Ditzler’s sister, Joyce Mattick, juggled a ringing telephone with checking out customers.

Ditzler called from the farm to check on the strawberry inventory.

“It’s keeping them busy to keep us caught up,” Mattick said.

The store also sells cider, preserves, sweet treats and local honey, among other items.

Back in the patch, Danny, 19, Abbie, 17, and Noah King, 15, were picking their own berries after finishing their shift. The siblings are among 20 people - mostly teenagers - hired to work the strawberry season.

“It’s been a really good season,” Danny said. “It’s more berries than we can pick.”

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, http://bit.ly/1PDTN9L

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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