It takes approximately six weeks for strawberries to transition from flower to fruit and because the growing season for strawberries straddles winter and spring, those six weeks are delicate times for the plant. Frost is an ever present danger.
There was one week during this past winter, when the plants had already begun to flower, that the perfect storm of falling temperatures, wind speeds and a low dew point created a perfect storm for frost.
Ashley Porter and his wife, Crissy, have a frost detection alarm in their home in addition to a well-informed group of fellow farmers and friends. Together they monitor conditions and notify each other when trouble could be coming.
And it did come. It started on the evening of March 22.
“That was a tough night,” said Crissy Porter.
Forecast highs for the Raleigh area for that week were on average 52 degrees – the same as the normal high temperatures in January.
To protect the fragile blooms from the deadly frost, the Porters started dousing the fields with water around 7 in the evening and continued the shower all night. As the temperatures dropped, the water froze around the entire plant, including the bloom. The water freezing layer over layer kept the bloom protected from the cold.
“It’s like a little igloo,” adds Crissy Porter.
Those same sprinklers that protect the strawberry plants from cold weather can also help extend the strawberry season during extremely hot weather also.
The technique is called evaporative cooling. Strawberry plants thrive in dry conditions but when the temperature rises, the sprinklers are turned on and as the moisture evaporates, the plant cools.
Workers at Porter Farms started picking strawberries early last week and every day the yield grows as the berries ripen.
Crissy and Ashley Porter plant three varieties of strawberries - Sweet Charlie, Camarosa and Chandler. All are delicious but are grown in this market for good reasons.
The Sweet Charlie is the earliest variety to mature so this is the variety that opens the season at Porter Farms.
The Camarosa is a larger variety that is best picked when blood red. Crissy Porter says that they pick these themselves because they are less forgiving than other varieties. If picked too soon they don’t taste as good as they could when fully ripe.
“We don’t want people to go home and not be satisfied,” explains Crissy Porter.
The variety grown in the u-pick fields is called Chandler. It is a more forgiving variety - if picked before they are fully ripe, they will still taste delicious.
The effort to save the strawberry blooms from frost earlier this spring paid off and you can taste it for yourselves this weekend at the Strawberry Festival. The Festival kicks off at 9 a.m. this Saturday on Technology Drive in the heart of the Cleveland Community.
Contact Mary Lahr Cain at email@example.com or 919-552-5675.