VALDOSTA -- Four acres of strawberry fun await berry-pickers young and old on Bemiss Road between North Valdosta and Moody Air Force Base.

U-Pick Strawberry field offers berry lovers the opportunity to personally select a quart or gallon full of strawberries.

The crop is planted in October, frost protected throughout the winter and nourished via an underground irrigation system. Little white flowers appear as spring approaches, which become large ripe strawberries with the onset of the season.

There is no need to worry about the fields being cleared completely. "The more a plant is picked, the more (berries) it will produce," Binion explained.

Strawberry season normally lasts from early March to late May. However, poor weather conditions delayed the ripening of this year's crop by a few weeks.

"We hope that because our season started later, it will end later as well. Late season strawberries become sweet like candy," Shanna Binion, worker at the patch, said.

Season length is dependent upon the weather. Hot May weather could shorten the season, while recent temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s are perfect for strawberries.

At U-Pick fields, containers are provided to berry-pickers for $2 (quart-sized) and $6.50 (gallon-sized); pre-picked containers are available at $2 per quart, $8 per gallon and $14 per flat.

Many groups of children and adults from schools, churches and organizations like the girl scouts have already made trips to the strawberry fields. Only $3 per child provides one quart-sized container for picking, coloring book, strawberry drink and a berry fun day out.

Each group, family or single picker is assigned a row and instructed to place the white flag where they finish to ensures each row is fully picked.

Guests make their payments on-location at the berry store, a new addition to the U-Pick field. It features a variety of flavored jellies, jams, syrups, preserves and cider in regular and sugar free. Salad dressing, sauces and pickled produce are also available, along with cookbooks, strawberry-shaped pens and many other novelty items.

The store accepts cash and checks only.

U-Pick Strawberry field, a division of Southern Grace Farms, opened seven years ago as an effort for farm owners Steve and Tim McMillan to regain lost capital after the 1998 tobacco settlement. They opened a second strawberry field and a blackberry field at the farm in Berrien County as well.

The strawberry fields are drawing crowds of berry lovers, and the summer-ripe blackberries will be ready for picking by the end of May. U-Pick fields have become a tradition to many, and the McMillans plan to continue as long as possible.

U-Pick Strawberry field is open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. Sunday, weather conditions permitting. Guests may join the mailing list to receive notices via mail or email when fields open.

To verify daily picking times, schedule a group session or for more information call (229)245-2747.

Picking Rules:

1. Stay on assigned row.

2. Do not stand or kneel on black plastic.

3. Do not step across beds.

4. Watch for holes and uneven ground.

5. Do not overfill baskets to the point of spilling.

6. Have fun!

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