Late strawberries should be plentiful

Apr. 29, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

It could be another two weeks before Zane Sells has a strawberry crop to pick.
Sells of Clodbuster Farms, a family-owned and operated strawberry and produce farm near Union Cross, has more than four acres of berry plants that for the most part are undamaged by weather and disease, but the plants are still blooming. Usually, strawberries are ready between Easter and Mother’s Day.  This year, it may be closer to Mother’s Day.
“We have just a few berries out here,” Sells said as he walked over the plastic row coverings in his fields this week. “The cold has put us behind, but the plants are loaded with flowers.”
A low temperature of 38 degrees Sunday night worried Sells for a few hours, but he did not have use his irrigation system to spray the plants for protection. In March, farmers start the freeze watch as fertilization continues and sprayings against insect and mold begin. If a freeze catches the plants in flower, they produce fewer berries. Growers protect the early flowers from late frosts with overhead irrigation at night. Some growers also use “row cover” blankets.
“There was a wind so that kept any frost from settling,” Sells said.
Several North Carolina strawberry farmers bought virus-infected plants from two nurseries in Nova Scotia. The viruses stunt the plants’ growth and reduce the number of berries they produce. Sells said he had seen no signs of the virus.
“It could be a short season,” Sells said.  “But we all could be wrong. Mother Nature throws curve balls all the time.”
North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation in strawberry production with approximately 1,800 acres of strawberries harvested each year. Most of the North Carolina strawberries are offered “direct from the farm” to the consumer. Chandler, a California variety is most widely planted in North Carolina. The high-yielding variety produces large, well-colored, juicy fruit, Amy-Lynn Albertson, Horticulture Extension agent for Davidson County said in a recent newsletter.
Farmers’ investment in their crops is substantial, Albertson said.  Sells has grown strawberries for 11 years.
“The seasons lately have not been as good as when we started,” Sells said. “The last two seasons, it got hot early.”
Sells said he expected prices to be $8 a gallon for people who pick their own berries and $10 a gallon for picked berries.
“If the weather is good during picking season, we can sell a lot of berries.” Sells said. “It’s a good family outing to come the farm and pick berries.”

Rank: North Carolina ranks fourth nationwide. The 2012 crop was valued at more than $29 million, according to the USDA. 
Harvest: Early April in the southeastern Coastal Plain; early mid- to late-April in the Piedmont; early May in the western part of the state. 
Varieties: Chandler: The leading variety, most widely planted for many years, large, well-colored, juicy fruit.
Picking: Depending on weather, most farms pick for 6-8 weeks.
Source. N.C. Strawberry Association