Late Season Expected to Bring Bounty of Strawberries
While cooler spring temperatures have the North Carolina strawberry season starting later than usual, growers across the state are seeing lots of blooms and ripening berries, indicating a bountiful crop.
According the North Carolina Strawberry Association (NCSA), a number of days in March with temperatures below 50°F pushed back the beginning of the season by about 10 days.
"Last year the season started earlier than normal, and this year it's actually later than normal," says Debby Wechsler, NCSA executive secretary. "Warm days in April have really helped the crop develop."
Farmers in the eastern half of the state have begun picking berries, and many pick-your-own strawberry farms have already opened to the public. Growers further west expect to open by the end of the month.
A Farm Locator Map of strawberry farms across the state is available at www.ncstrawberry.com. "Since each farm is a little different, it's a good idea to first contact them to find out exactly when they will open for picking and purchasing berries," says Wechsler.
Strawberry season is off to a strong start, with a plentiful crop predicted to ripen throughout the next few weeks and peaking in most places by mid-May–just in time for Mother's Day.
Strawberry Growers' Observations from Around the State
North Carolina Strawberry Association member growers throughout the state are seeing one of the latest strawberry seasons ever. They expect an abundance of strawberries across the state as long as the weather remains mild.
Coastal Plains – Cottle Farms, Faison, N.C.
"We are getting started 7 to10 days later than normal this year, but seeing solid crown development and expecting a good crop," says Sonny Cottle whose family owns a 60-acre farm located in Faison and pick-your-own farms in Goldsboro and Clinton.
Triad-area/High Point – Ingram Farm, High Point, N.C.
The quality and shape of our berries should be better than last year when the season started so early that the pollinators didn't have a chance to get going," explains Rhonda Ingram, who with her husband Dean owns a 5th-generation farm located in Southern Guilford County that has been raising strawberries for more than 30 years.
"Our biggest concern with this late season is that the weather could get hot very quickly, and we really need it to stay mild for the plants to see an extended season," adds Ingram. Strawberries do not tolerate high heat and flowering begins to shut down when temperatures are 90°F or higher.
Sandhills area – The Strawberry Patch, Ellerbe, N.C.
"I kept careful track of the spring weather and used double row covers to protect my berries from frost, which brought them in about 7 to 10 days before other growers in the area," says NCSA board member Lee Berry, who owns The Berry Patch, home to The World's Largest Strawberry in Ellerbe.
"Last year, I had the best crop ever on record, getting about three pounds of strawberries per plant. I don't know that we'll get there this year, but we should get at least 2.5 pounds per plant, and with the right weather could get three pounds again this year," speculates Berry.
Southern Piedmont/Charlotte area – Patterson Farm, Inc., China Grove, NC
"Our plants are looking good and we are seeing lots of blooms. We anticipate a strong season and hope to open the last weekend in April," says Doug Patterson, co-owner of Patterson Farm Inc. in China Grove. "We are really excited about having strawberries for Mother's Day this year.
All of our strawberries have been gone by Mother's Day weekend for the past two or three years, but thanks to the cool spring this year our berries should be at their peak for the May 12th weekend," explains Patterson who grows 36 acres of strawberries with his brother on a 3rd-generation family farm that dates back to 1919
Courtesy NC Strawberry Association.