Relentless bands of rain pounded strawberry crops, threatening to leave them underwater and forcing harvest to begin several weeks late. A cold, cloudy wet spring has had strawberry farmers concerned about this spring’s crop, but now sunny, drier and still cooler temperatures may help extend the season.
Chilton Research and Experiment Center Director Jim Pitts said the cooler weather folks are currently seeing across the state may help growers extend picking season into late-May.
“Normally we start picking around April 5,” Pitts said. “This year it was at least ten days later before we could start harvesting. We have had a lot of wet, cool temperatures, making it hard to keep mold off of the strawberries.”
This year researchers at the research center have dealt with anthracnose and gray mold — both have affected the crop, but in different ways. Anthracnose is a disease that attacks the fruit and plant and with the right weather and no fungicides can be devastating for strawberries. The best remedy to handle the problem is to purchase plants grown in cooler mostly northern states where the fungus will not survive. Unfortunately a mishap occurred in the plant propagation chain that allowed this disease to prevail on the plants, thus the problem growers have faced this spring. It causes brown spots to be visible all over the strawberry fruit . These spots are not harmful and can be cut off before consumption but the berries are considered culls.
Gray mold manifests itself on the fruit in consistently wet conditions, causing the fruit to mold, making it inedible. Warm, dry weather usually wards off gray mold and periods of dry can help strawberry plants fight it off.
While rain is essential to helping the berries grow, too much rain can flush the sugars out of the strawberry and take away some of the sweetness. The experiment station has seen bouts of rain, but not enough to make berries bitter.
With recent cool, dryer weather, Pitts said strawberry harvest may have an opportunity to be extended. As soon as weather starts getting warmer, strawberry plants start sending out runners and fruit production stops. For now, plants are still blooming and berries are still ripe.
For more information about strawberries contact your local Extension office.