A 'short and sweet' season for strawberries

Allison Nowicki, 1, of Tolland stops Saturday to enjoy a fresh strawberry as families take advantage of warm, sunny weather to pick their own at Scott's Yankee Farmer in East Lyme.
Allison Nowicki, 1, of Tolland stops Saturday to enjoy a fresh strawberry as families take advantage of warm, sunny weather to pick their own at Scott's Yankee Farmer in East Lyme.

Strawberry season in Connecticut never lasts long, but this year it may be even shorter than normal.

"The strawberries are taking a hit," said Teri Smith, co-owner with her husband Joe of Smith's Acres in East Lyme, which sells strawberries grown on its fields at its Niantic farm stand and at local farmers' markets. "Enjoy them while you can."

In a year of perfect strawberry-growing weather conditions, she said, picking starts around Memorial Day and extends through July 4. In more typical years, the season is about three weeks. This year, picking started last weekend, a bit later than normal, and heavy rains over the last week are leaving many strawberries vulnerable to fungus.

At Scott's Yankee Farmer in East Lyme, co-owner Karen Scott said the pick-your-own field off Chesterfield Road fared better than two other fields elsewhere where strawberries are grown for sale in the Boston Post Road farm stand. While many ripening berries have been lost to rot, there are still lots of good ones to be had, she said.

The season this year, she said, will be "short and sweet."

Hours at Scott's pick-your-own fields were extended this weekend after heavy rains this week kept many away. The pick-your-own field, which opened June 9, is normally open from 8 a.m. to noon on weekends, but is staying open until 2:30 p.m. to give its customers more time to take advantage of the weekend's good weather.

On Saturday, the pick-your-own field was busy with strawberry fans of all ages, who all seemed to be finding plenty of perfect red berries to fill their baskets.

Over the past few days, about 3 to 4½ inches of rain fell in southeastern Connecticut, drenching fields still drying out from the June 7 downpour.

Rainfall totals from the June 7 deluge through Friday ranged from 7½ to 8½ inches at various locations in the region, according to The Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University. In the Connecticut River valley, flooding of farm fields damaged vegetable and tobacco crops, said Linda Piotrowicz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.

"A lot of fields have to be replanted, but there is time to replant," she said.

She added that the river had not yet crested as of Friday afternoon, so the full extend of the flooding and the damage isn't yet known.

While some strawberry growers around the state are reporting damage, she said others weathered the heavy rains well, and are hoping for an influx of customers.

"They need lots of people to come and pick," she said. "They did a good job protecting what they have."

Smith said other than the damage to strawberries, crops at her 35-acre farm came through the heavy rains relatively unscathed. The only effect, she said, is that fertilizer has to be reapplied to corn and tomato fields, because most of it washed off the fields before it could soak into the soil.

Other than the losses in the 5 acres of strawberries at Scott's, corn and other vegetable crops at the farm are showing no ill effects from the rains.

"Everything else looks good," Scott said. "We needed the rain. Now we need some sun."

At Maple Lane Farms in Preston, owner Allyn Brown said his blueberry, raspberry and black currant bushes were undamaged by the rain, and his Christmas trees "love the moisture."

"Other than being behind in my work, it hasn't hurt us too much," he said. The five irrigation ponds at the farm are full.

"It's good to be going into the summer months with the ground saturated," he said.

The farm plans to open for pick-your-own blueberries, raspberries and black currents by July 4 weekend, Brown said.

“We're hoping the fields will all be dry by then," he said.

Holmberg's Orchards in Ledyard is also planning on an early July opening for its pick-your-own blueberries, owner Rick Holmberg said. Tomatoes and new fruit trees planted this year are all growing well, he said. Holmberg's raises peaches, apples and nectarines.

"Other than getting mud on our shoes and having to work in the rain, we're in good shape," he said.



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