It’s a bit of a cliche at Terra Firma that no matter what the weather has been doing in the weeks prior to the start of our first Strawberry harvest, it’s safe to predict that it will rain on “Opening Day”.
For more than a month now, we’ve been harvesting a very small amount of ripe berries — what you might call a “soft opening” to the season. A few times we’ve even gotten enough to offer them to subscribers through the web store.
Most years we start strawberry harvest around April 15th, but the warm weather in late winter fooled us into optimism that we could have one of the earliest starts to the season we’ve ever seen. Instead, it got chilly and damp in March. That slowed the development of the fruit. And April continued to “fool” us with cold, wet weather that delayed the ripening.
Still, at the end of last week we were optimistic enough to tentatively put strawberries on the “draft” CSA box list we do every Friday. We knew it was going to rain over the weekend, but the forecast showed little if any rain on Monday. When we ended up getting less than half the amount of rain we expected on Saturday and Sunday, it seemed even more promising.
Rain on strawberries does not necessarily destroy them. The tops of the beds are covered in plastic that keeps the fruit from getting too muddy. But if the rain lasts long enough or is heavy enough, water will pool on the plastic. If ripe berries sit in water for very long, they are ruined. On the other hand, if a light rain is followed by an hour or two of sun and wind that dries up the moisture, the berries may be fine to harvest the very same day.
You cannot harvest berries while they are wet, as they have no “skin” and will quickly turn soft in the basket where the fruits touch each other. This is true even of morning dew. We rarely harvest strawberries before late morning.
Monday morning it was still pretty wet around the farm, but the sun came out after a while. In the afternoon I checked the berry patch and found the fruit had weathered the storm well. We made a plan to start harvesting late Tuesday morning, just in time to get the fruit into your CSA boxes.
I was running errands an hour later in Woodland, 20 miles north of the farm, when I saw the black clouds approaching from the south east — not the direction that wet weather usually moves in from. I looked at the radar and saw that the storm that had hit us on Sunday was circling back around. A half hour later I got a text from my wife that it was pouring rain at home. We ended up getting more rain in two hours than we had gotten all day Saturday.
The timing of the rain, coming at the end of the day, was the real problem. The berries would sit all night in the water. And even now, Tuesday morning, it’s cloudy and still. Any ripe fruit will likely be ruined.
Later this week, we will have our first and hopefully only “Berry Sacrifice” day of 2020, where the crew goes through the field, picks off the ruined fruit and throws them into the furrows where they will become a muddy jam. The good thing about strawberries is that they will continue to make more fruit, hopefully for many weeks to come.
I won’t make any promises about next week; that would be tempting fate. The weather forecast clearly cannot be trusted. But let’s just say there is lots of fruit out there ready to ripen, given two or three warm dry days.