Strawberries for the holidays
By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
During the holiday season Patterson Farms is usually busy with poinsettias, but they are experimenting with another red crop over the holidays ó fresh, locally grown strawberries.
Doug and Randall Patterson of Patterson Farms Inc. are experimenting with tunnel houses to grow winter strawberries.
Growing strawberries in tunnel houses is not a new endeavor. Researchers from N.C. State University have been exploring the use of tunnel houses for the past three years, experimenting with strawberries and other fruit crops at the Piedmont Research Station on Sherrills Ford Road.
An agricultural production method developed in Europe, tunnel houses are actually modified greenhouses without heat. Crops such as strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes can be planted directly into the earth just as they would be outdoors, or sometimes in containers, to extend the growing season.
The Pattersons are taking the experiment a step further using real conditions on a working farm rather than an experiment station.
The Pattersons have teamed with the N.C. Research Campus for a three-year study implementing high tunnels to produce strawberries. The study is important because it allows production under bona fide farm conditions to determine if the new system is indeed feasible.
Dr. Jeremy Pattison, (not to be confused with Patterson) strawberry breeder at the research campus, is lending support and expertise with the high tunnel strawberry project.
A strawberry variety normally grown in Florida, Festival is planted in a one-acre tunnel house in late October. The plants are on black plastic with drip irrigation, just as a normal outdoor berry planting.Another strawberry variety, Camerosa. which is normally grown outdoors, is also planted in the experiment to determine if it could adapt to high tunnels. Row covers are used inside under the plastic to help insulate against extremely cold weather.
Growth and development of the plants depends much on the weather. If our weather remains as it normally does, the Pattersons could have an extended crop until March.
A limited harvest of the Festival cultivar began about two weeks ago. The berries are not a deep strawberry red color, but more of a dark orange color with a very large calex or cap, perfect for dipping in chocolate.
Doug Patterson admitted he was a bit skeptical about the flavor until he had his first berry.
“It was delicious, very sweet and firm.” Those who have sampled the berries have responded with two thumbs up for their sweet flavor.
These fresh experimental strawberries are now available to the public, but on a limited basis. Patterson Farm Market is located on Caldwell Road, just off Highway 150 in southern Rowan County. Call the market at 704-797-0013 for more information about strawberry availability.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970.