Valley Bounty: Strawberries

During a recent conversation, Dave Wissemann warned me, “Don’t be one of the people who lets strawberry season pass them by. The trick with berries is to get them while you can.” Wissemann would know; his family has been growing strawberries on Warner Farm in Sunderland for generations. Wissemann explained that the fruiting season for June-bearing strawberries can be shockingly brief. “In a good year, it’s four weeks long. In a bad year, it can be as short as two.” Local strawberries are available throughout the growing season here in the Valley but Wissemann was quick to point out that the most delicious strawberries are the June-bearing varieties, which flower in May and then produce their only crop of fruit in June and early July.

On Warner Farm, preparations for strawberry season began back in April when the team pulled away the thick layer of straw that had covered the plants over the winter. Strawberries are perennials that can survive the winter in a dormant state, but deceptive winter warm spells have been known to trick the plants into awakening, only to be devastated when the temperature dips back down. The straw ensures that the strawberries stay dormant for the duration of winter.

Since the team removed the protective straw, Wissemann has kept a close eye on the weather forecast. A spring frost can be deadly for a strawberry crop. As a precaution, the team has set up an overhead irrigation system above the strawberry patches. Believe it or not, watering the plants during a frost is one of the best protections Wissemann has in his toolbox, and he’s awoken at 3am many cold April mornings in past years to turn on the irrigation. The water freezes on the plants and as it transforms into ice, it releases heat, stabilizing the temperature at 32°. The ice encases the strawberries and prevents the plants from experiencing a deeper frost below 28°, even as the temperature in the air continues to drop.

 Wissemann explained that the strawberry crop is looking fantastic this year after a wet spring. “The good thing about a lot of rain is that you get really big strawberries.” Pick-your-own strawberry fields will be opening up at farms across the Valley any day now. Wissemann loves the strong culture of pick-your-own here in the Valley and he says that the best way to eat strawberries is out in the field right after you’ve plucked them from a plant. With so much pick-your-own available in the Valley, we can all get out there to enjoy some strawberries the way the farmers do!