Wintry weather not a friend to strawberry crops
Published 5:57 pm Saturday, January 4, 2014
CHOCOWINITY — The threat of freezing temperatures sent the Harding family scurrying outside New Year’s Day to protect their strawberry crops, a staple at Southside Farms in Chocowinity.
Shawn and Tracey Harding, joined by sons Billy and Jonah, spent approximately five hours hauling plastic bedding sheets over 2 1/2 acres of strawberry fields in an effort to shield 4,400 plants from below 20-degrees temperatures that were predicted for Friday night and Saturday morning.
“We don’t have to typically do this. … I don’t think last year we had to cover the plants until March,” Shawn Harding said Friday morning. “But when they start talking about temperatures below 20 degrees, we start to get nervous about damage to the plants.”
Not only were Friday night’s temperatures predicted to drop dramatically, another cold spell is projected for this coming week, according to Harding. It’s like a balancing game, he added, since farmers don’t want plastic covering the plants in sunny, 60-degree weather.
So out come yards upon yards of plastic sheeting, which the Hardings spread out “like a blanket on a bed” over the strawberry plants.
Even though the strawberry plants don’t currently have delicate blossoms, a dreaded drop in the mercury still could mean serious damage.
“This cold weather can cause damage to the foliage and that can cause problems later on,” Tracey Harding said.
While local residents are looking ahead to warmer weather and strawberry-picking time, the Hardings find themselves more concerned with the immediate safekeeping of the crop.
“The plants are looking good so we want to try to protect them,” Shawn Harding said. “There should be a growth spurt the middle of March, and our goal is open in mid-April for strawberry picking, give or take a week or two.”
Southside Farms offers ready-picked strawberries in the spring as well as the chance to “pick your own.” The Hardings began growing strawberries 15 years ago at the suggestion of Tracey Harding.
“It was supposed to be like a side-line thing,” she said with a laugh.
The success of the spring harvest depends in part on preventative actions taken by the Harding family now and over the next few months.
“I remember the big Easter freeze we had a few years ago,” Shawn Harding said. “That was our worst cold weather. I had row covers on the plants, and then I ran water over them so there would be a protective sheet of ice. But even then we lost a lot of blooms.”