Despite cold winter, good strawberry crop expected

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2011

By Karissa Minn
In spite of an unusually cold winter, Rowan County farmers say this year’s strawberry crop is expected to thrive — as long as spring doesn’t get too hot too early.
“At this point, they’re starting to bloom… and it looks like it’s going to be a good crop,” said Artie Watson, owner of Wetmore Farms in Woodleaf. “We had good growth in fall and winter, so we’re right on track.”
Watson said the main challenge in the past couple weeks has been shielding the blooms on the farm’s 4 acres of strawberry plants from cold weather.
“We use overhead sprinkler irrigation,” Watson said. “That forms an ice layer over the plants, and the water forming ice actually creates heat when it freezes.”
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said many strawberry growers are using irrigation and row covers to protect their plants overnight.
“Growers across the state have reported that the warm winter in mid-March had strawberries ahead of their normal production schedule, but thankfully the recent cold snap has only slowed their progress down slightly and has not caused loss of berries,” Troxler said.
The North Carolina Strawberry says the strawberry crop is expected to total nearly 20 million pounds, with a value of a little over $1 per pound. The longer it is cool, the longer the crop will last.
Doug Patterson said the 38 acres of strawberry plants at Patterson Farms outside China Grove look great, though he’s not sure if the yield will be significantly larger than normal.
The berries should be ready for picking starting at the end of April, and the crop could last through the middle of June.
“If we have a normal weather pattern in May, we should have an exceptional year, the way things look right now,” Patterson said.
He said unusually rainy or hot weather isn’t good for strawberry plants. Quick warming can speed up their growth and make them more vulnerable to later cold snaps.
Patterson said the recent cooling hasn’t damaged his plants, though, and he only has had to protect them twice.
“They were probably coming on too fast, and the cold weather is probably going to slow them down a little bit,” Patterson said. “They needed to be slowed down… so it should be a good season.”
Once they grow and ripen, Patterson Farms strawberries will be sold in its roadside stands and grocery stores like Walmart and Food Lion. People also can buy the berries at the Patterson Farms market, 10390 Caldwell Road in Mount Ulla, or pick their own at the farm, 3060 Millbridge Road in China Grove.
Wetmore Farms strawberries will be available at the farm’s retail market, located at 175 Farm Drive in Woodleaf, or at farmer’s markets and fruit stands.
Also listed as a grower by the N.C. Strawberry Association is Eagle & Son Produce, located at 2924 Old Mocksville Road.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

Tips to make the most of strawberry season
Know when to go: The season runs from late April to early June. Local berries travel a shorter distance to sale, so they are picked riper and taste fresher.
Ask local farmers when they pick berries and what days they sell at markets — stop by then for the freshest berries.
Select the perfect strawberry: Look for berries that are firm, bright red and blemish-free. They should have a distinctive sweet scent.
Pick-your-own strawberry farms are listed at
Keep it fresh: Wash strawberries just prior to eating or preparing, not before storing.
Cover berries and keep in the refrigerator for only a few days. Always wash your hands before handling produce.