AP NEWS

TONY MELTON: Strawberry fields are not forever

May 6, 2019

The Beatles were wrong. Strawberry fields are not forever.

Local strawberry production will end in just a few weeks. Strawberries are a cool-season commodity; thus, hot weather will stop production.

Therefore, April through early June is strawberry season in the Pee Dee, and time flies, so don’t miss it.

We’ve had a cool day or two recently, but it’s already been near the 90s. However, the cool days allowed flowers to mature and fruit to set, so maybe our strawberry season will extend further into June. Usually it takes approximately 30 days from a flower to a ripe strawberry, so flowers that set now will be picked in June.

For me, strawberry season brings back memories of Dad’s garden, cool springs and my youth. Mama loved to bake cakes and pies out of the tasty fruit, but after all nine of us kids had visited the patch, not much was left. Dad’s patch produced small but tasty fruit, and it took a lot of work to get a belly full. Glad I was young and energetic.

Today the fruit is large, sometimes bigger than golf balls, but just as tasty as Dad’s. In those days we were isolated in the big city of McBee, so very few pests bothered Dad’s strawberries.

Today the world has become a very small place with all sharing the same problems; therefore, strawberries have become more complicated in their production. Like many people, I would like to go back to those simpler days when all you had to do is plant a few strawberry plants and pick an abundance of fruit for many years.

Most strawberry production today is what we call an annual culture. The plants are planted, grown and harvested for only one year. With this system, the plants grow quickly, produce a large amount of fruit in one season and problems (pests) are hopefully kept to a minimum.

One of the best parts of my job is helping the local strawberry growers produce their scrumptious crop, and of course sampling the fruit in each field is important to ensure quality fruit.

In other words, this time of year I visit about 15 strawberry fields at least every two weeks – no wonder I am gaining weight – but I am enjoying every sweet fruit. These great fruits are sold at the farms and many satellite locations all over the Pee Dee – too many for me to list in this column.

Watch out for those strawberry signs, and be sure not to miss out on your share before I eat them all (ha). Also, a bucket or two of certified South Carolina strawberries would make an excellent gift for Mother’s Day, and you might get a pie or cake in return.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.