Most of the fresh strawberries grown and eaten in the U.S. are grown in California, and most of those are grown in a narrow strip along the coast. The mild weather that humans enjoy so much is also perfect for producing the delicate fruit over a long season running from spring until late fall.
There is very little acreage of strawberries farmed in the Central Valley,
generally focused on small farms like ours. That’s because we have a short, intense season sandwiched between the last frost in late March (berries are ruined by frost) and the first big heatwave of the summer, which normally occurs around Memorial Day but can arrive even earlier. Temperatures over 100 degrees cook strawberries on the plants, and also cause them to stop initiating new fruit.
2018 saw our latest-ever start to Strawberry harvest at Terra Firma, thanks to unseasonably cold weather in March. That means we could have a very short season indeed if summer arrives early — last year our final berry harvest was in mid-May. On the other hand, if summer is later to arrive, the berries will continue to produce and fill your boxes while we wait for tomatoes, sweet corn and other summer crops to arrive.
Statewide, strawberries are the most productive row crop per acre (They can be grown as a perennial but very few farmers still do it). TFF’s short season changes that equation, but the output from our 3 acre field is still impressive. Every day for the past week we have harvested at least a hundred flats of berries from the 3 acre field. Many of those went into your CSA boxes this week — two baskets each. But we also sell the remainder to local outlets who appreciate having hyper-local berries even for a short time.
While they do produce lots of fruit, strawberries are also an expensive and demanding crop to grow. They spend most of a year in the ground, from late August when we plant them until July when we plow the field under. We have to plant them by hand, and weed them several times: by hand, with the tractor, and with weedeaters. And of course, they must be harvested by hand with the utmost care to pick only the ripest fruit without bruising.
All that said, strawberries are a very rewarding crop for us. Their abundance is a welcome change from the scarcity of late winter, and we feel that they give our CSA subscribers something to get excited about. They also help get our farm team “into shape” for the summer crops that will follow just after them.
You are part of that team as well, with the important task of eating as many berries as possible. Get to work!