ELLERBE — Some strawberry farms in the area have already begun harvesting and will likely reach their peak around Easter, thanks to warmer-than-average winter temperatures.
The North Carolina Strawberry Association advised in a release March 31 that strawberry crops were predicted to ripen right on schedule despite late frosts, though it acknowledged that some farms in the Piedmont region were already open.
Lee Berry, who owns the Berry Patch in Ellerbe with his wife, Amy, and is a former member of the strawberry association, said his was one of the farms to see early berries.
A warmer-than-average February caused the berries to ripen early. Berry said that his berries normally peak at Mother’s Day, but he predicts they will peak at Easter this year, though he will still have some berries after that.
Berry’s average picking start date for the last 19 seasons was April 8. He normally picks berries for four weeks before they peak, and he’s already been harvesting for three weeks and has had a “tremendous yield” so far.
“I’m not saying there won’t be fruit, but I think they will be past their peak come Mother’s Day,” he said. “Mother’s Day is typically the kickoff to the summer, I always say, because then you’ve got Memorial Day, and college letting out, and then high school letting out, so summer kind of starts there at Mother’s Day.”
Growers may be a little short on certain spring crops following cold temperatures in March.
“With such a short peach season and early varieties of peaches getting killed, I think we will really be hurting for any type of spring fruits to sell, not vegetables, but fruit,” Berry said.
Berry, who is also the mayor of Ellerbe, has been growing strawberries for 20 years.
On Friday evening, he’d just finished covering his berries with row covers to protect them from the expected chilly temperatures and potential frost.
“I’m using materials now called floating row covers,” he said. “It’s a white blanket you put over them. It adds warmth at night, so the plants don’t get cold at night as they do if they’re open to all the elements. I’m manipulating the temperatures with the blanket. A lot of growers are doing that now… it’s kind of messing with Mother Nature.”
The covers were set to come off the following morning so he could begin picking berries again.
The North Carolina Strawberry Association’s website, NCstrawberry.com also offers free recipes for pies, cobblers, breads and more to use up the berries before the season ends.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.