Strawberry Season Will Be Here Soon!

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Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring and harvest normally begins 30 days after bloom. We’ve had an early spring and early blooms, so we can expect these delicious beauties to be ready very soon. But are they a berry or not? The strawberry is a member of the rose family and not classified by botanists as a true berry. True berries, such as blueberries and cranberries have seeds inside. Strawberries however, are the only fruit with seeds on the outside. The average strawberry has 200 seeds, each of which is actually considered a separate fruit.

Strawberries are a delicious, nutritious, fat-free food, higher in Vitamin C than a medium orange. Vitamin C helps your body heal, resist infections, and maintain healthy bones, gums, and teeth.

Strawberries are a significant source of fiber in the diet, a good source of potassium and manganese and rich in antioxidant compounds such as anthocyanin, quercetin, resveratrol, and ellagic acid. Studies indicate that these compounds may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease and reduce some of the cognitive declines of aging. There is also evidence that strawberries have properties that may assist with weight loss and with diabetes control.

The cultivars recommended for home gardeners in North Carolina are June-bearing strawberries such as ‘Galletta’, ‘Chandler’, ‘Earliglow’, and ‘Jewel’. June-bearing cultivars produce a single crop of fruit in the spring. The name “June-bearing” is somewhat confusing because these cultivars bear most of their crop in May. June bearers are short-day plants, which means they start forming flower buds when days are less than 12 hours long. Runner production is a long­day response; it occurs only when day length is more than 12 hours.

The three varieties most popularly planted commercially in North Carolina are the Sweet Charlie, Chandler and Camarosa varieties. Many consumers actually show a preference for Sweet Charlie berries, which have a high sugar to acid ratio. Chandler is well liked for its good flavor, size and attractive red color. Camarosa fruit is very large and firm and holds up well in rainy weather. To achieve the best flavor, pick this fruit after the bright red stage when it takes on a darker color. A strawberry will not ripen once it is picked.

With the recent cold temperatures, you may have noticed irrigation sprinklers being used in our local strawberry fields. This crop production technique is used for frost protection. Even when dew point temperatures and air temperatures are forecast to be in the upper 30’s, at the weather shelter height of 5 ft., it is still possible to have a killing frost at the strawberry canopy level. Overhead sprinkler irrigation is the most effective method for frost/freeze and frost protection of the popcorn and open blossom strawberry flower stages.

The basic principle behind sprinkling for frost and frost/freeze protection is that as water freezes, heat is released by the freezing process (heat of fusion). This heat keeps plant temperatures at 32 F, even when air temperatures are colder. As long as an adequate layer of freezing water covers the blossom, the temperature will stay above the critical damaging temperature for an open blossom (30 F).

In medieval times, strawberries were served at important functions to bring peace & prosperity. Native American Indians called strawberries “heart-seed berries” and pounded them into their traditional corn-meal bread. Discovering the great taste of the Native American bread, colonists decided to create their own version, which became an American favorite that we all know and love – Strawberry Shortcake. What is your favorite strawberry treat? Strawberry cobbler, strawberry ice cream, chocolate covered strawberries? For more information about how good strawberries are, take a look through http://ncstrawberry.com/consumers/consumer-information.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.