Strawberry season could be stupendous if weather stays mild

Strawberry growers prefer their weather mild and dry, and the forecast after this week’s heavy rains is looking positive for the upcoming season.

“There is a potential to be a bumper crop; we started picking almost three weeks early this year,” said Dr. Jayesh Samtani, Virginia Tech assistant professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension small fruit specialist at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center. “Last year we were picking into the end of June. But it all depends on the weather; we need to stay cool for the flowers to keep coming.”

Samtani explained that strawberry plants will continue to bloom as long as temperatures stay between 70 and 85 degrees. Higher temperatures can cause a decrease in blooms, ending the growing season a couple of weeks later.

Warm temperatures in February gave plants an early start, Samtini noted, and many growers managed to dodge freezing temperatures the first week of March by using row covers or overhead sprinkler systems to protect the blooms.

The new berries are “good-sized,” he said, and some strawberry growers already are harvesting.

“We’re about two weeks earlier than we normally are. Some producers further south in the Carolinas, they’ve been picking for three or four weeks now,” said Herbert Brown Jr., owner of Browntown Farms in Brunswick County. He sells directly to the public, to community supported agriculture operations and to a Richmond grocery store. “We had a warm late winter, and that’s all it took.”

But four days of rain in late April have growers concerned, Samtini said.

“Most strawberry production in Virginia is dependent on consumer picking, so if you have a lot of rain you have muddy fields and fewer customers,” he elaborated. “The other drawback is that if you don’t have pickers a lot of ripe berries begin to rot in the fields.”

Still, the early start and the forecast for dry, warm weather this weekend has growers optimistic.

“We are moving forward with opening tomorrow,” said Jordan Berryman, co-owner of College Run Farms in Surry County on April 25. “The rain has stopped, and the sun is out, and all of the ripe berries are patiently waiting to be picked. It might be a little wet down some of the berry rows, but picking looks really good for opening day.”

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