ARCANUM — Rob Schmidt, owner of Premier Berries LLC at 4001 Myers-Tillman Road, Arcanum, is expanding his pick-your-own strawberries operation, which he said is now the only one in Darke County.
Yes, Schmidt again this year is opening up his strawberry fields to customers, who are permitted to pick their own berries. Only this year, there are more strawberries being offered as he has added another field.
He was hoping the strawberries would be ripe around the third week in May but now expects them to now be ripe around June 1.
“They are later for this area, and I am not experienced to know,” he said. “June 1 is what it did last year. A recent cold morning could have dumped a lot of water on them. I think it got down to 25 degrees, but this week they should get some growth.”
One of the bigger challenges, he said, has been putting an overhead sprinkler in the beds.
“You have to watch the cold mornings,” he said. “You gotta keep the frost off of them.
He uses underground dry tape for irrigation.
“It goes under the plant to water the plant underground,” he said. “That way there is no evaporation. It keeps the water in the rows. We are using 15,000 gallons of water on frosty mornings. Last year, the blooms had ice on them. That’s what you want. You ice them up to protect them.”
He said he plants his plants 22 inches apart. He buys them from Indiana Berry in Plymouth, Indiana.
“I’ve also been experimenting with black raspberries, too,” said Schmidt, who also has a self-service free-range eggs at his location.
Schmidt is particular in how he presents his strawberry fields.
“People don’t want to go into a patch full of weeds and thistles,” the bachelor said.
He gets a kick out of the response he gets from this you-pick operation.
“The best thing is when the people who come out and pick their own thank me for doing it,” he said. “They tell us how nice they are and how clean they are.”
Schmidt said that he has always had an interest in raising strawberries and now that is coming to fruition. And, it’s become another full-time job for him.
“I’ve always wanted to do something different than farming,” said the 1985 Arcanum High School graduate, where he was a member of the FFA under the guidance of George Skidmore. “I also farm full-time 280 tillable acres in corn and beans.”
When fall rolls around, Schmidt will cover up the berries with straw.
“When a light freeze comes on they go into dormancy,” he said.
In his barn, he has a straw shredder for winter. He said it blows the straw on evenly one row at a time.
“The straw protects them,” he said.
Another piece of equipment he has acquired is an old tobacco plant to plant the strawberries.
“It’s really a transplanter,” he explained. “It’s about the same as a planter and it irrigates pretty quick.”
He purchased that piece of equipment in Cookville, Tennessee, July 4, 1915.
When Schmidt started his first field with 1,000 plants, they were planted them by hand. Life has gotten a little easier for him, and he’s enjoying it.
Those wanting more information or wanting to pick their own berries this year can call Schmidt at 937-423-3375.
This writer may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.