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North Carolina strawberries are ripe here, ripe now

By Al Cooke, Extension Agent
Posted Monday, April 30, 2007

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Chatham County, NC - May is Strawberry Month in North Carolina, and the crop looks excellent. Despite concerns over the great "Easter Freeze", strawberry growers successfully protected their crop with only minor losses. Now, local tables can take advantage of these fresh, field ripened, local strawberries.

Many growers are commenting that it looks like one of the best crops they have had. And the recent weather -- with warm, sunny days and clear, cool nights -- has been just perfect for making sweet, flavorful berries. Many farms opened a little earlier than usual this year. Most growers sell Pick-Your-Own or Ready-Picked berries at the farm – and a visit to the farm is a perfect family excursion.

Dr. Barclay Poling, Small Fruit Extension Specialist at NC State University, says “On the Tuesday before Easter (April 3), I got my first glimpse of a ‘monster freeze’ headed towards North Carolina on Easter Weekend.” Up to that point everything had been falling into place for a great season, including the potential for our earliest picking ever on Easter weekend.”

But, as everyone now knows, Easter weekend was dreadfully cold, and the state's fruit growers, including the strawberry producers, were confronted with the prospect of losing everything. The Easter weekend arctic freeze had temperatures in the teens and low 20s, as well as unbelievable winds gusting in excess of 25 mph. The North Carolina apples and peach industries were some of the hardest hit.

The outcome for NC’s strawberry growers was fortunately much better. Growers prayed a lot, drank gallons of coffee to stay up for 5 straight nights of frost protection starting on Good Friday, and also used a relatively new technology that involves the use of spun-bonded polypropylene row covers, which look like a huge white blanket. According to Dr. Poling, “These lightweight ‘blankets’ literally float on top of the entire crop and help insulate and protect the berry plants from freezing temperatures. These row covers can be used to protect low-growing crops like strawberries and vegetable transplants, but sadly not grapes, fruit trees and blueberries.

But, the overall outlook for the 2007 strawberry crop in North Carolina and Chatham County is excellent. Growers are now offering public picking as well as pre-picked berries. There are also berries at local farmers markets.

Chatham pick-your-own (PYO) and pre-picked growers include:

Jean’s Berry Patch on Hwy 751, Apex, 919-362-5800 or 919-468-1160

Lee Farms on Hwy 42 in Moncure, 919-776-2500.

Dr. Poling suggests you should “be sure to pull out your shortcake recipe!”

 
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