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Strawberry season arrives a week late

Strawberry season is here, but local growers say they are about a week late due to cold weather in the spring.

“We had all those cold times and not enough growing days,” said Danelle Cutting, local food and horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. “We had hoped for an Easter crop, but that didn’t happen.”

If the weather doesn’t turn severe, Cutting said, the county should yield a decent crop of strawberries.

“Hopefully it is not as rainy as last year. If there is too much rain, those berries absorb it and turn to mush,” Cutting said.

Strawberries also happen to be a relatively expensive crop.

According to the organization’s most recent budget, Cutting said one acre of strawberries equates to about $14,000.

This week’s weather is a concern, Cutting said.

“We don’t know how bad it will get, and hopefully there are no tornadoes. Unfortunately, we don’t have protection from hail for the strawberries,” Cutting said. “Strawberries don’t do very well in extreme weather, and a lot of it is going to be determined when (the storm) hits.”

Cutting said Patterson Farm is the county’s only pick-your-own strawberry farm, as well as the only farm currently harvesting the little tart fruits.

The farm’s owner, Doug Patterson, said workers started picking strawberries in the field on Monday, and they already have hit the farm’s market and soon will be stocked in the farm’s stands.

“Strawberries are planted and then establish themselves in the fall. Then they lay dormant in the winter,” Patterson said. “Our season is so short in North Carolina. We can only go six to eight weeks.”

Patterson said the farm can grow strawberries on raised plastic beds, and excessive rain will tend to run off.

“Strawberries form their sugar and flavor with sunny weather. They don’t like excessive rain,” Patterson said. “We know how to handle them if there is inclement weather.”

Next week, Patterson said workers will be picking strawberries every day – “gobs” of them.

Steve Eagle, owner of Eagle’s Farm, said his strawberry crop is “looking good.”

“While usually we are picking right now, the cold winter has set us back a week to ten days,” Eagle said.

If the area doesn’t receive a lot of rain, Eagle said the strawberries can be picked from the last week of April through around June 20.

“The rain really messes them up. They just deteriorate,” Eagle said. “Strawberries like sunshine and cool weather. They don’t like it too hot.”

Eagle said the crop has been put behind even further because it has been “cloudy and cool.”

“You have to plant strawberries in September — in the fall,” Eagle said. “With other crops, you just plant them in the spring. You have to worry about the frosts in March and April.”

For more information on the local strawberry scene, contact the North Carolina Cooperative Extension at 216-8970.

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