Tennessee’s strawberry crop stages big comeback after freeze, drought

Tennessee’s strawberry crop stages big comeback after freeze, drought

NASHVILLE — After a year marked by dramatic and damaging weather which included a devastating freeze and an interminable drought, Tennessee farmers are poised to present the first warm weather crop of 2008: strawberries.
“Tennessee’s topography and accompanying temperatures exert considerable influence over the timing of crops in Tennessee, with West Tennessee crops ripening first and East Tennessee crops ripening last,” says Tennessee Department of Agriculture marketing specialist Rob Beets.
“Weather is not the only determinant of when strawberries will be ready, however, as there are also significant varietal differences that help determine a berry’s size, flavor and maturation date.”
Ed Sims of Tom Wade Strawberries in Kenton told Beets last week their farm’s first strawberries would be ready around the first of May.
“May 1 we will be having some strawberries ripe for purchase, but by May 5 our strawberries will be in full swing. We have six acres of strawberry fields. The variety we grow is Chandlers, and yes, they are sweet!” said Sims.
“Folks have been calling already looking forward to them coming in this year, and the biggest question I get is, if they are sweet. Chandlers have a good taste; that’s why we choose to grow that variety. Most of our strawberries are pre-picked for our customers’ convenience and will be available at strawberry stands we have set up in Union City, Trenton, Humboldt, Dyersburg and Jackson. If the weather stays favorable as it has been, it will be a good crop this year.”
Mid state, Donnie Steed from Circle S Farms in Lebanon expected strawberries by the second week of May, in time for Mother’s Day. “We have a full, nice looking crop-a lot better than last year’s,” says Steed.
“We also have a great greenhouse, with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini and squash all ready for picking, so our customers get the first fresh produce of the season.”
Steed’s pick-your-own operation is in its fifth year.
Steve Scott of Scott Farms in Unicoi expects his first strawberries around Saturday, as weather conditions have remained cool. “I am expecting good size strawberries this year,” says Scott. “We should be having strawberries still coming in 35 to 45 days out from when they first all come in to be ripe. The freeze last year killed us, but if the favorable weather conditions hold out, we’ll get to offer our customers a great strawberry crop this year.” Scott Farms will have 12 to 13 strawberry stands in various East Tennessee locations and will be also found in 50 Food City locations around East Tennessee.
“Strawberries do not continue to ripen after harvest and have a short life once picked,” says Beets. “Berries should be completely ripe when picked or they won’t have that sweetness you expect. You have about four days after picking to do something with them.”
Beets says to store the fragile fresh berries unwashed in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate, if possible. Just before using, rinse the berries under a gentle spray of cool water. Do not cap until after washing.
Visit www.PickTnProducts.org to find local strawberries, strawberry recipes and more information about other Tennessee farm products.
Published in The Messenger 5.6.08

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