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Strawberries struggled, but they are almost ready

By Amy-Lynn Albertson

Rowan County Extension Director

Our local strawberry producers have had a tough time this year with unseasonably warm temperatures this winter and then freezing temperatures in March.

However, many made it through the weather and I’m ready for some delicious berries. Harvesting began earlier this week.

In Rowan County, we have several commercial strawberry producers spread out all over the county. Miller Produce, Miller Strawberry Farms and Patterson Farm sell both pick-your-own (PYO) and pre-picked from the farm. Wetmore, Miller, Pattersons and Twin Oak all sell at the Salisbury Farmer’s Market or at their roadside stands.

The great majority of North Carolina strawberry farms use the Southeastern plasticulture method. Plants are set out into black plastic mulch in the fall. Irrigation and some fertilization are supplied through drip tape laid under the plastic at the time of planting.

The plants continue to grow during warmer periods during the fall and winter. In late winter and early spring, they start to grow in earnest. Growers protect the early flowers from late frosts (March-April) with overhead irrigation at night.

A technique for frost protection is the use of row covers. The floating row covers are made from spun bound Reemay cloth (a polyester cloth) and can protect the crop from temperatures as low as 20 degrees.

Though strawberries are perennial, plasticulture strawberries are grown as annuals, with harvest only 7-8 months after planting and new plants set out every year. Plant density is high (17,500 plants per acre) and the farmers’ investment in the crop is substantial.

Chandler is the variety of strawberry is most widely planted in North Carolina. Chandler is a California variety that is especially adapted to North Carolina conditions. This high-yielding variety produces large, well-colored, juicy fruit.   The harvest season begins in early April in the Coastal Plain and ends in mid-June in the western part of the state. Depending on weather, most farms pick for six-eight weeks.

Locally grown strawberries in Rowan County are available now and, we hope, on through June. You can find the strawberry farm closest to you by visiting www.ncfarmfresh.com.

Locally grown strawberries will also be available at the opening day of the Salisbury Farmer’s Market April 15, from 8 a.m.-noon. If you would like more information on strawberries, go to http://www.ncstrawberry.com or call the Rowan County Extension Center, 704-216-8970.

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