Strawberry season starts this week! Two things immediately jump out about this year’s berries. First, they are late — very late. Today is the latest calendar date we’ve ever put the first strawberries in our CSA boxes. That follows the coldest winter and spring we’ve had in Northern California in twenty years.
The second thing you’ll notice right away is that the berries are HUGE, absolutely the biggest we’ve ever harvested. This is the same variety we’ve been growing for a few years now, called “Sweet Anne”. But the plants seem to be responding to their very long winter sleep by making unusually giant fruit.
Our Strawberry season at Terra Firma is always pretty short, squeezed between the end of winter and the start of summer. Planted in September, the berries grow for 7 months before harvest, which starts most years in mid-April. The season generally ends with our first spell of 100 degree weather, which has been generally occurring earlier than in the past. We used to routinely keep picking well into June, but in recent years the season has ended in May. So this year’s season could end being painfully short.
Why don’t the berries like hot weather? Descended from alpine plants, the fruits have no skin and burn easily in the hot sun. Ripe fruit is highly perishable at any temperature, and needs to be harvested when it’s cool but not damp. This leaves us with a short window on warm days to get all the fruit picked. On the really hot days we can get here even in late May or June, it can be 80 degrees by 9 a.m. and we have to stop picking.
Missing a harvest day or three is not necessarily a big deal. But once the temperature goes over 95 degrees for more than a few days, the berry plants will stop making flowers and thus new fruit. The plants themselves will keep growing happily in the heat but our harvest season will be over. Just to break even on the crop, we need the season to last three weeks. That hasn’t been happening very often the last few years.
So, given the shortness of our berry season and the challenges of growing them here, you may ask “Why do it at all?”. And in fact, we ask ourselves that question more and more often.
We first started growing strawberries a year or two after we started our CSA. Providing subscribers with an interesting and abundant CSA box in late spring can be very challenging, especially in wet years like this one. Berries have the advantage of being planted in the fall and producing very abundantly. They give subscribers something to look forward to at the end of winter. So, in short, we’re doing it for you.
Whether the season lasts a week or a month this year, we’ll be offering you opportunities to take advantage of it. In addition to the basket or two that you’ll see in your boxes, we’re offering half flats of berries for sale as well through the webstore.
We are also planning a “U-Pick” day for subscribers the weekend of May 20th. If you’re interested, keep an eye on your email inbox.
We hope you enjoy this week’s berries. Keep your fingers crossed for a good season!