Garden Guide: Strawberry time!

May. 08, 2013 @ 04:59 AM

Happy strawberry season! Many of you may not know, but May is strawberry month in North Carolina. Quite appropriate, since farmers across the state are now busy harvesting those yummy red berries. 

North Carolina is a leading producer of strawberries in the United States. Based on the total value of the strawberry crop, North Carolina ranks third! What makes our state distinctive from the two leaders, California and Florida, is that almost all of the fruit produced is sold locally for fresh market.

Lucky for us, Lee County has a number of excellent strawberry producers that grow and sell their berries right here. Strawberry season in Lee County has begun. The season lasts five to eight weeks depending on the weather, so be prepared for a treat of some chocolate-dipped strawberries! On average, a single acre of strawberries can produce between 15,000 and 25,000 pounds of fruit! 

Nothing beats freshly picked strawberries straight from the farm. You can get local berries by visiting roadside stands where the farmer usually has pre-picked and pick-your-own available or at the Sanford farmers market. If you are looking for a great deal and a day out in the sun, pick-your-own is for you!

Here are some tips for strawberry season: 

1. As a courtesy to the farmer and to avoid disappointment, call before you visit a roadside stand. This will ensure that there are berries available, since ripening is dependent on the weather.

2. Plan your trip in the morning or in the early evening, when the temperature is cooler. Not only will you be more comfortable, your strawberries will keep better. 

3. If you will be picking in the fields, wear comfortable shoes and a hat. Also, dress small children in red or dark colors, so stains won’t be as noticeable.

4. Some farms do not have containers available, so ask when you call or plan to bring your own. Use shallow containers, so berries aren’t bruised. 

5. Be respectful of the farmer and his property. Carefully follow signs and directions that are given to you. Visitor safety is very important to the farmer. Also, keep an eye on children. Plants can be easily destroyed and kids can get hurt on farm equipment.

There are a number of delightful strawberry varieties available including Chandler, Camarosa and Sweet Charlie. Pick berries that are plump, firm and well colored. To pick the strawberry, pinch the stem of the berry between your thumb and forefinger. Leave the cap on until you plan to use your fruit — this will allow the berry to keep longer. After harvesting, place berries in an insulated cooler to transport home. Do not put berries in your trunk or leave them in the sun. 

Strawberries are best used the day they are picked. Chances are if you ate all the berries you picked, you would have a stomach ache! Store extras in the refrigerator in a shallow container, caps on and unwashed. This will allow a longer storage time.

Are you ready for strawberries yet? Go ahead, the season is upon us! For more information on strawberry farms in the area, visit www.ncfarmfresh.com or contact our Center at (919) 775-5624. 

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North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center.