The succulent taste of spring – strawberries – may be a little late topping your shortcake after this week’s cold snap, farmers say.
The shirt-sleeve temperatures the Carolinas have basked in since mid-January gave way to a brisk 24-degree morning in Charlotte on Wednesday and 23 degrees Thursday. both were 15 degrees below normal for this time of year.
Growers have been working nights this week and last to spray their berries with water, which forms a protective ice shield in freezing weather.
Randall Patterson of Patterson Farm in China Grove, which grows pick-your-own and commercial strawberries, estimated that about 20 percent of the early blooms on his plants were killed.
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But while his crop had been about three weeks ahead of schedule because of the warm winter, most blooms and berries haven’t yet emerged, giving hope that his harvest will be saved.
“There’s still a possibility that we could have an average year. It just depends on the weather from here on out,” Patterson said. “It’s going to be a good volume and it’s going to come on later, around the first of May.”
A larger problem for strawberry growers may be having enough water to spray their plants if cold weather persists, said Kevin Hardison, an agriculture marketing specialist with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Many farm ponds are not full because of dry fall and early winter weather.
“They’re saving the plants, whether they save the berries or not,” he said. “If they lose the first berry, that’s one thing, but if they lose the whole plant that’s a whole other thing.”
Workers at Mooresville’s Carrigan Farms, a pick-your-own operation, were waiting Thursday morning for the ice to melt off their plants before assessing damage.
“We’ll have strawberries, maybe not the early cop that we might have, but we will have strawberries,” said owner Doug Carrigan. He expects to start harvesting in late April.