Strawberry Time in Martin County

— Written By Cecil Sumner and last updated by

Strawberry image

Get your buckets ready. It’s that time of the year. Local, fresh, juicy, delicious strawberries will soon be across Martin County.

Each of the farms allow you to pick your own berries, so you can be very select and pick only the most beautiful and perfect strawberries. It is surprising how quickly you can fill a bucket, so it only takes a few minutes to pick all you need.

If you don’t have time to pick your own, each farm also provides berries that are already picked. These berries are usually picked during the early morning by the farmers themselves, their family, or neighbors. They are just as fresh as if you had picked them yourself.

Each of the strawberry farms are located in a different community of the county, so it is convenient for anyone in the county to easily get to a strawberry patch.

You may have seen fresh strawberries in local grocery stores for the past several weeks. In fact, you may have already enjoyed some of them. They were probably delicious, but please be aware that they are specific varieties developed so they can be harvested before they reach peak flavor, shipped long distances, and stay on a grocery shelf for at least one week before being sold. These berries do not have the flavor and juiciness of fresh picked berries.

The varieties that our local farmers are growing are those that are designed for the fresh market. These varieties have been developed for consumers that want to allow the berry to fully ripen right in the field, and once harvested, to be prepared for eating within a couple of days. Now, that is about as fresh and delicious as you can get. If you thought the strawberries shipped from thousands of miles away were good, you will think our local berries are fantastic!

Every state in the United States and every province in Canada grow strawberries. Strawberries are so popular with consumers that just the fragrance of strawberries is a major marketing item. You not only eat strawberries, you can buy strawberry candles, soaps, lotions, and thousand of other items with a strawberry fragrance.

The strawberry gets its name from the fact that the berries seem to be strewn among the leaves of the plant. The plant first had the name strewberry, which was later changed to strawberry.

Strawberries are not really a berry or a fruit in the “botanical” sense. A strawberry is actually an “aggregate fruit.” The “berry” is actually an “enlarged receptacle” and is not reproductive material.

The strawberry plant has seeds on the outside skin rather than having an out skin around the seed, as most berries do. However, they do not normally reproduce by seeds. When the plant is developing, it sends out slender shoots called runners. These runners grown on the ground and send out roots into the soil. The roots produce new plants, which grown and bear fruit. Sometimes these plants are taken from the soil and replanted to start a new plantation of strawberry plants.

Strawberries are a rather expensive crop to grow. As mentioned above, the plants do not develop from seeds, but instead must be planted from sprouts from the runners. Just the cost of the plants alone exceeds $2,000 per acre. Plants can be left in the filed for more than one year, but production falls so drastically after the first year that it is more economical for commercial strawberry farmers to establish an entirely new planting each year.

The cost of laying the black plastic on which the plants grown often exceeds $2,000 per acre, but it is necessary for weed control, and to help keep the soil warm in the plants’ root zone. Irrigation, not only for growth but also for frost and freeze protection, is absolutely necessary. These plants must be protected from a host of diseases that can wipe out an entire field within days. The fungicides used for this protection often cost more than $400 per gallon. It is not uncommon for a strawberry grower to have more than $10,000 invested in each acre of strawberries before anyone ever get to his field to pick the first berry. There is no wonder these strawberry farmers get real nervous when the weatherman starts talking about a late frost of the chance of a hailstorm.

I would like to invite you to visit one of our local strawberry farms early in the season while the berries are at their best. Pick plenty of them, some to enjoy fresh, and some to put in the freezer. But I am warning you, buy more than you need. When you place them on the seat beside you as you travel home, they will be so tempting that many of them will be gone before you get home!

For more information, please contact me at the Martin County Cooperative Extension Center at 789-4370.