By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The Dale Munsterteiger family took on the challenge of a “you-pick” strawberry farm when they purchased their 10-acre farm southeast of Melrose from Dale’s parents.
“My dad started strawberries in Freeport in 1983 and moved here in 1991,” Dale said. “We helped him then, and bought the place in 1999.”
Strawberries are so much a part of the Munsterteiger tradition that Dale’s brother Brad bought 10 acres outside Monticello and started his own farm.
Dale, who grew up in Freeport and Deona, who grew up in Osakis, celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in 2012 — a very bright spot in a year otherwise chock full of challenges.
Their daughter, Brook, was in an accident in March 2012. That same month, they were robbed. Their gardens took hail three times during what was a decidedly bad strawberry season.
“It (2012) was the first year that we had a loss,” Dale said. “We normally make a profit or at least break even.”
Both Dale and Deona work full time off the farm.
“The farm is a hobby,” Dale said.
All of the Munsterteigers work with the berry plants, including Brook and son, Dustin.
Although strawberries have a fairly short picking season, anywhere from seven days to three weeks, work on the farm continues from snow melt in the spring until first snow in the fall.
The farm has four fields which are rotated every year. During the off years, rye, oats or sudan grass are planted for green manure on the field.
“We rotate to build up the soil,” said Dale. “It’s healthier for the soil and the plants.”
Strawberry plants are picked during their second season, and Dale and Deona plow the plants under after that season.
“It’s easier to keep weeds down on the first year’s planting and the plants are not as likely to freeze out over winter,” Dale said. “The berries are nicer the first year.”
To keep the plants from producing the first year, buds are snipped by hand with scissors.
“We hire help from the neighbor kids and kids from church,” Deona said.
This year, 17,000 plugs were planted for picking in 2014. Normally, planting is done at the beginning of April, but was done about a month late.
Planting is done one row at a time, usually taking two days. Weeds are pulled by hand.
The first picking is typically around Father’s Day but this year will probably be around the end of June, even into early July.
“The best time to pick is early morning when it’s cool,” Deona said. “You don’t want to do it during the heat of the day.”
Dale and Deona hear a lot from people who won’t go anywhere else. People like the clean, organized fields.
“We carefully mark where we quit each day,” Deona said. “The next day people have fresh pickings.
“They have very good strawberries with easy picking,” said loyal customer Bill Hopfer of Richmond. “They are good people to work with.”
It’s not just the red fruit that is a reward for Deona.
“I like the people,” she said. “Many people come back year after year.”
Brook and Dustin have grown up with the farm. Brook recalls running up and down the rows, always finding the good berries.
“I like the little kids,” Brook said. “You can hear them say, ‘Mom, look — it’s a big strawberry.’”
“We will do it until hopefully one of the kids takes over and keeps the family tradition,” Dale said. “We’ll do it as long as we can.”
No matter what happens in any given year, the Munsterteigers have a larger perspective.
“The Lord is also with us, as he is our silent partner,” declares their Web site. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without him.”
For more information call toll free 1 (800) 737-5442 or (320) 837-5442.