Iowa family operates U-pick strawberry farm
By Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Date Modified: 06/20/2013 10:34 AM
LARCHWOOD, Iowa — When strawberry season rolls around, Monte and Karla Gerber know that life gets a little bit crazy on their farm.
Located just a mile from the Iowa and Minnesota border and just minutes from the South Dakota border, customers from three states find their way to the farm to pick strawberries.
This will be the third year for the family U-pick strawberry operation. The Gerbers were looking to diversify their 450 acre crop farm and custom feed hog operation that would accommodate their busy times.
"There was not a strawberry farm in the immediate area," said Karla. "We do like strawberries."
Strawberry production could involve their four children. Katrina, 12, Shawna, 10, Dalton, 8 and Marea, 5.
The strawberry plants are beginning to blossom, and the Gerbers anticipate ripe berries by mid- to late-June.
"Weather does make a difference," said Karla. "Warm temperatures will hasten the ripening. The opposite happens with cooler, cloudy weather."
Eleven strawberry varieties are grown on two-plus acres. Varieties are chosen for sweetness, firmness and size. New varieties are tried and evaluated and must meetr expectations.
When strawberries are ripe, they need to be picked and taken care of. Every working hour is maximized.
"We look forward to Sunday," said Monte. "That afternoon nap is needed."
They hire pickers, but 80 percent of their business is U-pick. Monte's parents, Bill and Erma, are a huge help, said Karla.
The Gerbers have converted a room in their garage into a licensed kitchen. Jams and syrups are bottled there. Products are available at the farm and at the Falls Park Farmers Market in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Karla anticipates their farm stand at that market will get busy on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. when the strawberries are ripe. Strawberry Lemon Poppyseed, Strawberry Rhubarb and more jams will keep customers returning.
The Gerbers have operated a food stand for two years at the Lyon County Fair. They sold smoothies and popsicles with their main ingredient strawberries.
"The kids go crazy for the popsicles," said Karla. "Their parents were quite happy to see them refresh with something healthy."
Dormant berries get a covering of chopped cornstalks to protect the plants. From November until the soil temperatures reach 35 to 40 the plants remain covered.
"We rake the stalks off," said Monte. "Takes a strong back for that. The stalks then are used as a mulch between the strawberry rows. Since we hand weed the berries, the mulch does an excellent job of suppressing weed growth."
The Gerbers enjoy strawberries year-round. A favorite is an old family recipe that comes from Monte.
4 cups strawberry mashed
4 slices of bread, torn in 1 inch pieces
1 cup cream or milk
Mix in a bowl, can add sugar to taste.
A website, gerberberries.com, and Facebook page, Gerber Berries Inc., help keep strawberry lovers attuned to picking dates. In season, they are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon. The farm reopens at 2 p.m. and closes at 8. Saturday hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and it's closed Sundays.
The farm address is 224 120th Street, Larchwood. Call 712-400-9521 for more information.