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Strawberries are ripening all over the place

Local strawberries are one of the great pleasures of springtime in Rowan County. As wet as the weather may be, strawberry producers have again survived with another beautiful strawberry crop.

Berries are now available and can soon be found at the Salisbury Rowan Farmer’s Market, at local satellite stands or at the grower’s farms.

Strawberries are a fat-free food high in vitamin C and a significant source of fiber in the diet. A serving of strawberries contains more vitamin C than a medium orange and is also high in antioxidants, ranking third in these substances out of all fruits and vegetables tested. Frozen strawberries retain all the nutritional benefits of fresh strawberries.

Most Rowan strawberry producers grow pre-chilled berry plants on black plastic with drip irrigation. Even though strawberries are perennials, these plants are treated as annuals. Using black plastic and drip irrigation provides cleaner and earlier berries, eliminating waste in irrigation and fertilization practices. After the growing season is over, plants are removed, and the raised beds and plastic is often used for other crops until the fall.

Some strawberry producers are now using Global Positioning Satellite Systems (GPS system) in their strawberry production practices. This system uses satellite technology to correctly apply nutrients in deficient areas, reducing over-fertilization. This system not only saves money from over-application but helps save our environment.

With all the new innovations available, growers must still overcome unseasonable temperatures, diseases and insects, not to mention fickle customers. These are just a few variables growers must conquer before producing an abundant crop.

Growers must gather all the skills and technology available for a crop and may still have a marginal crop. Fortunately, Rowan producers have the skills to produce wonderful crops under less than perfect conditions.

Berries will not ripen after they are picked, like bananas, so pick the reddest berries possible. It is best to eat them on the same day you picked or buy them, but if you must keep them longer, store in your refrigerator. Arrange the berries in a shallow container, separating out any damaged berries. For best storage, cover them loosely at a temperature around 35 degrees.

It’s temping, but, do not remove the caps or wash the berries until you are ready to use them. When caps are removed before use, the berries lose some of their moisture and washing them before immediately eating them bruises them and the berries will lose their freshness.

Darrell Blackwelder deblackw@ncsu.edu is retired horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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