When you farm for your living, you always have to get up early. The Dressel family has been doing that for so long that it’s now a couple of days ahead of the game: This year’s Strawberry Moon rose on June 9, but the Dressels started selling fresh-picked strawberries at their farmstand on Route 208 in New Paltz on the seventh. The pick-your-own season surely can’t be far behind!
As of presstime, the much-anticipated opening date was forecast for “approximately” June 15 or 16. It’s the weather and the ripening of the berries that drive the schedule, not customer demand or weekend traffic. Mother Nature is calling the shots here. “The rain slows everything down. It makes the strawberries fatter, but not sweeter,” said Sarah Dressel, who has a degree in Agricultural Science from Cornell and who, like her grandmother before her, now runs the family’s strawberry pick-your-own operation.
“The hot weather is really going to move them along. They’ll ripen very fast,” agreed Sarah’s grandfather, Rod Dressel, Sr., an old hand at the berry-timing game. His father, Fred Dressel, first planted strawberries on this land in the 1940s. “I remember having to pick strawberries while taking Regents exams in high school,” Rod Sr. recalls. Before the Dressels opened their roadside stand in 1972, Rod would deliver berries door-to-door to regular customers in town.
Today, three generations of the Dressel family – including Rod Sr., Rod Jr. and his wife Deb, Sarah and her brother Tim – grow more than 400 acres worth of apples (20 varieties), peaches, cherries, blueberries, pumpkins and strawberries. Eight acres of land are devoted to strawberry beds, with do-it-yourselfers taking home many quarts at a time. The technique for picking strawberries is considerably different from picking apples, on account of the fragility of the fruit. It’s important to leave the berries alone until they’re red all the way through, with no white tips. Each bed gets revisited about five times per variety, at three-day intervals. “A lot of people grow good strawberries, but they lose them in harvesting,” Rod Sr. observed.
“These are farm market varieties, meant to be sold the day they’re picked,” explained Tim Dressel. They’re not bred for sturdiness for shipping, like California or Florida strawberries, but for exquisite flavor and juiciness. Earliglow and Wendy ripen first, then Jewels and Scarlet, then Valley Sunset and Record toward the end of the season. The Dressels pride themselves on the fact that every container of strawberries for sale on the counter at their farmstand contains nothing but berries at their peak of perfection. There are no unripe mealy ones hidden underneath. And they sell out far too fast each day – sometimes hours before closing time – to include any berries with soft spots.
Consequently, many locals are content to stop by for a $6 quart a couple of times per week during berry season, rather than stock up by picking their own at the bargain price of $2.75 per pound. But there’s definitely an element of fun in crouching between the rows, seeking the perfect fruits to fill your baskets to take home. Youngsters love berry-picking outings – although they may need some coaching as to what makes a ripe berry, as well as how to slip the first two fingers around the stem and pull downward gently on the berry’s “shoulders.”
The elder Dressel dislikes the use of plastic mulch, adhering to the more traditional practice of spreading a thick layer of ryestraw (they grow their own) over strawberry beds. This speeds drainage, discouraging rot. Still, each bed must be rotated out of strawberry production after three to four years, as the destructive water mold Phytophthora fragariae can persist in the soil for up to ten years.
So if you haven’t been out to Dressel’s to pick berries in a while, don’t expect to end up in the same place where you used to pick them. The beds once visible right along the roadside were turned over to other crops long ago. Your best bet is to check in at the farmstand – located at 271 Route 208, about three miles south of New Paltz – and ask where they’re picking that day.
The two varieties earliest to ripen include Earliglow, the Dressel family’s favorite for flavor, so don’t wait too long for peak harvest. But according to Rod Sr., the later varieties should continue to bear as late as July Fourth weekend – and Record, he said is “ideal for chocolate-dipping.” Pick-your-own hours are from 8 to 11:30 a.m. daily and from 6 to 7:30 only on Thursdays and Fridays. For an announcement of opening day, like/follow Dressel Farms on Facebook. Farmstand hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during strawberry season.
Dressel Farms is located at 271 State Route 208 in New Paltz. For more information, call (845) 255-0693 or visit