It’s a point of pride for us that Terra Firma has one of the longest tomato growing seasons of any farm in Northern California. Our strawberry season is the opposite.
Strawberries like the same cool, dry weather that most Californians prefer. They prefer the narrow strip of land along the coast where it rarely gets too hot or too cold. In that area, it’s possible to grow berries for 7 or 8 months or even longer if you put up plastic hoophouses over your fields as they do in Watsonville.
Here our strawberry season is bookended between the cold, wet winter and the hot summers. Rain and extreme heat have the same end result for a berry farmer: any ripe fruit in the field is ruined. So our berry production is squeezed into the increasingly questionable season that we still refer to as “spring”. But that is also our most volatile time of year, with stretches of gorgeous weather punctuated by alternating bouts of rain and hot, dry wind — sometimes in the same week.
We didn’t ever get enough rain this year to lose any strawberries, only to cause headaches with the harvest. For example on Sunday night this week we got just enough rain to wet the fruit, meaning we couldn’t harvest in the morning. Then, just as we began to harvest the field after lunch, it began to sprinkle. Areas to the north and south of us got soaked, but the heavy rain held off and we were able to start harvesting again after an hour.
One- or even two-day rain events cause us a temporary interruption in harvest, but hot weather can be more damaging. A day or two of heat accelerates ripening of the berries and makes them much more perishable. We can only harvest for an hour or two in the morning before it gets hot. But three days or more of very hot weather — a common occurrence for us this time of year — can end the season. The plants go into shock, the green berries on the plant get burned, and the flowers drop off.
We’ve had years where it rains all through April and then gets hot in mid-May, the worst of both extremes. Occasionally we make it well into June before it gets too hot. This year it looks like it could happen next week. That would make 2020 a six-week berry season for us, which is right around normal and about “break even” from a financial perspective.
Short and sweet, strawberry season plays a valuable role in our farm’s annual cycle by preparing us for the “main event” that is our tomato season, like spring training for baseball players. Both crops require a level of care to harvest and pack that carrots and cabbage do not.
But the primary reason we grow strawberries is for you, our CSA subscribers. We feel that the berries make our spring boxes more fun, interesting, exciting and tasty. So enjoy them while they last!