AUBURN, Ala. – Strawberries may not be big business in Alabama, but it is a sweet one. According to Doug Chapman, an Alabama Extension regional commercial horticulture agent, compared to larger producing states such as Florida, Alabama’s production size is minuscule.
“If you looked at the land allotted to strawberry production, strawberry acreage in Alabama would not exceed 200 acres statewide,” said Chapman “When you look at a larger state like Florida, in Polk and Hillsbourough counties in Central Florida they grow close to 25,000 acres just in those counties alone.”
While Alabama cannot compete with large producing states, Alabama’s production is important to Alabama residents.
Chapman said that the unique thing about the purchasing process of Alabama grown strawberries is most of them are sold directly from the producer to the consumer.
“Alabama strawberries are often sold at roadside stands, farmers markets and right off the farm. Some farmers have a U-pick system to sell their strawberries,” said Chapman.
There are two different varieties that are commonly found growing in Alabama, Camarosa and Chandler. In Alabama, strawberries are an early season crop that brings consumers to farmer markets or fruit stands early in the year between April and May. Most growers will harvest for a six week period. The ripening season is different for different areas of the state. The general rule of thumb is the further south you are, the earlier the strawberries will ripen. In fact in Florida the harvest begins in late December around Christmas.
Mike Reeves, Morgan County Extension coordinator, said that based on weather conditions you can estimate the time of ripening.
“Based on this year’s weather I would expect the Coastal areas like Mobile and Baldwin counties to have begun ripening by March 20,” said Reeves, who works closely with the fruit growers association. “Central Alabama (Chilton County region) can expect ripening to begin around April 10 and North Alabama will be a few days later near April 20.”
All of Alabama’s commercial growers use the annual hill plasticulture system to plant. Strawberry plasticulture is a hill training system where freshly dug bare-root plants or plugs are planted in late summer to early fall. When using this planting method, special equipment is needed to make the 8-inch-deep raised beds that are covered with black plastic mulch.
Chapman said that the care and maintenance of strawberries should begin before planting.
“Optimum production starts with bed fumigation before planting,” said Chapman. “Then producers should regularly use pesticide sprays to control weeds, insects and diseases.”
When buying strawberries to plant, Chapman said that larger growers get their own tips from Canada and grow their own plugs. For a small scale production, producers can purchase plug plants from a local nursery.
For more information on Alabama strawberry production, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your local extension office.
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