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Strawberry Fields and Weather

Unusually Cool Spring Delays Arrival of Upper Valley’s Fruit Crops

  • Megan Baxter, production manager at Cedar Circle Farm, takes a moment to find a ripe strawberry for a snack while taking inventory of ripe produce at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vt., on June 6, 2014. While strawberries are not yet ready for sale at the farm, there are a few ripe berries scattered around the fields. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Megan Baxter, production manager at Cedar Circle Farm, takes a moment to find a ripe strawberry for a snack while taking inventory of ripe produce at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vt., on June 6, 2014. While strawberries are not yet ready for sale at the farm, there are a few ripe berries scattered around the fields.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A lone ripe strawberry is seen in a row of early-growing berries at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vt., on June 6, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    A lone ripe strawberry is seen in a row of early-growing berries at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vt., on June 6, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Megan Baxter, production manager at Cedar Circle Farm, takes a moment to find a ripe strawberry for a snack while taking inventory of ripe produce at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vt., on June 6, 2014. While strawberries are not yet ready for sale at the farm, there are a few ripe berries scattered around the fields. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • A lone ripe strawberry is seen in a row of early-growing berries at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vt., on June 6, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Plainfield — Pooh Sprague has been fielding numerous calls from people across the Upper Valley inquiring about when they’ll be able to pick their own strawberries at Edgewater Farm. Sprague’s answer is simple, although not always welcome: He doesn’t know.

A long winter and a cool, damp spring caused strawberries and all flowering crops to bloom about 10 to 15 days late this year.

While farmers don’t expect a late bloom to impact the quality of strawberries, it will push the pick-your-own season back by a couple weeks.

“If I had predictable weather, I could be predictable,” Sprague said. “People would think that after you’ve done this for 40 years, you’d have some idea what mother nature would do, but we really don’t have any control.”

The strawberries at Edgewater have been in full bloom for a week, and if Sprague had to guess, he said he would expect his crop to be ready for the pick-your-own season by June 20.

For Bob Gray at Four Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt., a later season means that — for the first time in 10 years — his farm will have strawberries available for picking after the Fourth of July.

In the past, the Fourth of July weekend marked the height of berry-picking season. But in more recent years, as the result of climate change, the season has been ending by early July.

“Now this is a normal, old fashioned spring,” Gray said.

Gray spotted his first blooms around May 5 for strawberries that have beds lined with black plastic sheeting and row covers, which help capture the sun’s heat and extend the strawberry season. For the remainder of his crop, Gray detected the first blooms around May 23rd. It typically takes about a month between when the first blooms appear and when the strawberries are ripe enough to be picked, which means Gray plans to start picking the beds lined in plastic sheeting as early as today and the rest of his crop around June 23.

Gray expects his pick-your-own season to run from around June 20 to the middle of July.

At Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, the bulk of the strawberry patches are covered in blossoms, said Cat Buxton, who manages the education programs at the farm. Like other farms, Buxton said she expects to have pick-your-own strawberries available by late June.

The farm annually holds a Father’s Day “berry brunch” with a pick-your-own strawberry event. While Buxton said there will be enough of a berry crop for the brunch customers and some strawberries are already ripe enough to eat, she doesn’t expect it to be bountiful enough for mass picking as is typical by mid-June.

But it isn’t only strawberries that are delayed. Many of the crops at the Cedar Circle started late this year because farmers couldn’t get into the field as early as previous years because of a winter that wouldn’t quit and a cool, damp spring that followed.

“It’s hard to say what normal is anymore,” Buxton said.

George Hamilton, a University of New Hampshire Extension field specialist in fruit and vegetables, said all fruit crops have bloomed late this year because of the cool spring, which hampers crops from developing quickly.

Hamilton expects no impact on the quality of strawberries, but he said consumers will have to be patient. If they see strawberries in the store, they need to understand that the berries probably aren’t local.

“Your mouth is going to water a little bit longer this year,” Hamilton said.

Gray, of Four Corner Farms, said he still thinks his strawberry crop yield will be about average. The freezing temperatures in January and February and lack of snow cover injured portions of his crop, which will prevent a number of blossoms from fully developing.

Gray nonetheless expects the season to be better than last year when there was an onslaught of rain, which rotted about 75 percent of his strawberry crop.

But what surprised farmers this spring has been a lack of frost. This year’s strawberry season didn’t bring a single night of frost after the strawberries blossomed, which Gray said he hasn’t witnessed in all his 35 years growing strawberries.

Once strawberries blossom and the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below at night, farmers are forced to stay up all night irrigating the beds in order to prevent them from freezing.

But this year, no frost after the blossoms meant that Gray and other farmers didn’t have to worry about protecting their berries.

“I’m not complaining about being late at all,” Gray said.

Edgewater Farm’s Sprague, too, said it was the first time in the 40 years he’s been farming that he hasn’t had a frost and hasn’t had to irrigate his strawberries, which he calls “a gift” because it’s costly and troublesome. Sprague said he didn’t miss walking around with a headlamp in the odd hours of the night checking to make sure the equipment was functioning properly.

“Whatever diminished crop there is because of the long winter, it might be offset by the lack of cost of irrigating,” Sprague said. “I don’t mind being late if it means I can stay in bed.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.