The storms that swept through California during the last week produced record amounts of rainfall as well as record cool temperatures for late May. They also ruined millions of dollars worth of cherries and strawberries.
Cherries and Strawberries have a few things in common. Although the first grow on trees and the second on small plants, together they are generally the first fresh fruits of spring. This makes them vulnerable to wet weather. When rain falls on ripening cherries, it can cause them to split open and turn moldy. If ripe strawberries, growing close to the ground, sit in water for any length of time they turn to mush.
If you’ve been a TFF subscriber for a long time, you might remember a time when we had both cherries and strawberries. But while cherries are a wonderful fruit to eat, they simply didn’t pencil out for us compared to strawberries. And quite honestly, we didn’t have the emotional ability to deal with crop that broke our hearts at least one out of three years. We no longer grow them, and we’re pretty happy about it.
The big difference is that cherries only make one crop per tree, all of which ripens at roughly the same time. An ill-timed rain can result in a total crop loss. Strawberries, on the other hand, make fruit continuously over a period of weeks or months. Rain can cost you a day or two’s harvest, but unless it rains frequently during the season, it’s not a huge loss. Most strawberry growers fully expect to lose some berries every year to weather.
At Terra Firma, the timing of this week’s rain could definitely have been worse. We were able to harvest all the ripe berries in the field on Wednesday before the first storm arrived. The cold temperatures during the rain kept the fruit from ripening much until Friday, when it got sunny and windy enough to dry everything up and allow us to harvest again.
The second storm dropped twice as much rain, and Monday morning it was still far too wet to harvest. The ripe berries sat in the water and began to turn to mush. Had it rained again that night as originally forecast, there would be no strawberries in your boxes today. Instead, the storm brought only us wind. By mid-morning on Tuesday, it was sunny and dry enough to enter the field. The crew went through, harvesting the firm and intact ripe fruit while removing the overripe and mushy berries and throwing them on the ground. The walkways in the field are now bright red.
This is obviously not a scientific process — we are looking for visual clues to differentiate between good and bad berries, and we are going to miss a few. You should inspect the berries in your box when you get them home, and before you eat them. Some of the berries may not hold up. Others may have an off flavor from absorbing too much rain. Still others may taste incredible.
You would be hard-pressed to find a farmer in California right now who is happy about the off-the-charts cool, wet weather we’re having right now. Combined with the non-stop rain of the past winter, 2019 is just turning out to be a really…messed up… year. Summer crops are already late and everyone is behind schedule, and this is slowing everything down even more. Plus, the reservoirs were already full to the brim and the snowpack at record levels. We don’t need any more rain this year.
That said, as long as it stays cool, our strawberry field will keep producing. And as long as it doesn’t rain three times a week, we should be able to keep picking berries and sending them in your boxes. Our best strawberry years have been years like this.