Thirty years ago — the summer of my sophomore year of college — I was riding a motorcycle across the English countryside to a musical festival with my first-ever girlfriend. Suddenly an intense fragrance hit our nostrils: strawberries ripening in the warm sun. We saw a sign: Pick Your Own Berries, 1 mile, and agreed to make a quick detour.
I had picked wild raspberries in the woods growing up, but as anyone who has been up to Terra Firma for Farm Day knows, nothing can really compare with being set loose in a field chock full of ripe strawberries. We gouged ourselves on ripe fruit, amazed at how incredible they tasted. Then we filled up all the bags and other containers we could find with berries, got back on the bike and kept riding to our destination.
Berries picked on a warm afternoon don’t keep well even under the best of circumstances, and this wasn’t that. By the time we got to our destination two hours later, the fruit was smashed and spoiled, and the sticky juice was all over all of our stuff.
This story could be a parable about youth and innocence, or any of several other themes but since I’m a strawberry grower I’ll stay away from metaphors and symbolism and just say that this was my first experience with harvesting this fickle fruit.
All fresh fruit is ephemeral, despite decades of efforts by humans to reverse nature’s intention and make it more durable. But strawberries are by far the most perishable fruit we grow, and the varieties we choose to grow — the best tasting ones — even more so. They are at the mercy of hot and cold weather both, as well as rain, all of which can turn them into mush in just a few hours.
When the National Weather Service started predicting rain for the past weekend, we knew it was going to rain. Last week’s strawberry harvest had been a comparative trickle, but by Friday it was already obvious that a tidal wave of fruit was coming. Had it rained the prior weekend, we would not have lost a single berry. This weekend, however, was a completely different story.
Each time it rains on our strawberries, the situation is different depending on the duration of the wet weather and what happens afterwards. Sometimes just a few berries are ruined — the ripe ones that are sitting on dirt, for example. Other times the damage is much more extensive, like when the fruit sits in puddles of water for a day or two. But no matter what happens, we have to pick all the ripe berries, inspect each one, and either drop it on the ground or keep it.
The good news is that strawberries produce fruit over a relatively long season. So while we may lose a few hundred or even a thousand of pounds of fruit after a rainstorm, there are usually still plenty of green fruit and flowers on the plants. Neither is often damaged by a short-duration rain. And in this case, our field is just getting started.
We ended up dropping over half the ripe berries in the dirt this week. But there were still plenty of good ones for your CSA boxes (see the note below about perishability) and there will be lots more in the coming weeks.