03/23/04 — Strawberries survive cold snap

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Strawberries survive cold snap

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on March 23, 2004 2:06 PM

Strawberry farmers continue to deal with cooler temperatures and hope that more consistent, warmer weather is on the horizon.

Harold Barwick has three acres of strawberries one mile from Mount Olive on N.C. 55 East. He has about 45,000 plants and has a stand to sell them.

He said his crop successfully made it through the cold weather last night, but not without him taking the precautions. He used water from his pond to spray over his field. The water provided a layer of ice over the crop, holding it at 32 degrees and protecting it from any severe damage. Today he applied more water to wash all of the ice away.

Peach trees

News-Argus/Dennis Hill

Jean Wooten checks peach trees behind her house for frost damage this morning. She and her husband, Elton, have four trees at their home on Pikeville-Princeton Road. She said the trees appeared to have come through the sub-freezing night without any problems.

Barwick expects to have an average crop this year, which is better considering his crop last year was 25 to 30 percent less than normal. He attributes the better crop to having more cold weather earlier this year followed by warmer weather. This is beneficial because if the situation is reversed, the strawberries bloom early and are damaged by the colder temperatures that follow, he said.

He plans to begin picking his strawberries between April 1 and 15, which is generally about as early as farmers can harvest them, he added.

Other strawberry producers have also prepared for cooler temperatures.

Harold and Pam Edwards operate Elroy Farms on U.S. 70 East, one-half mile east of N.C. 111. They have had strawberries for 14 years and have three acres with about 20,000 plants per acre.

Ms. Edwards said it reached 32 degrees at 10:30 p.m. last night and he turned on his sprinkler system around 10 p.m. He uses 34 degrees as the cut on and cut off temperature for the sprinkler. He said most of the ice had already melted off by this morning, and his crop looks better than last year.

He plans to start harvesting between April 10 and 15 if the weather stays favorable. People can pick their own or buy them already picked.

James Sharp has been growing strawberries for seven or eight years and has 12 acres with 17,000 plants per acre. His crop is at Deans Farm Market in Wilson.

He is working with Jack Smith of Smith Farms at Rosewood and will be selling his strawberries at Smith's stand at the intersection of N.C. 581 and U.S. 70 West.

Sharp uses an overhead sprinkler system to put water over the plants when the temperature reaches 33 degrees. He used the sprinkler Friday, Sunday and Monday nights and plans on using it again tonight.

There are temperature gauges all over his field, and he checks them throughout the night because the temperature can fall very quickly, he said.

He said the crop looks great this year and is consistent, clean and has large blooms.

"We are really excited about the crop," added Sharp.

Other crops also appear to be in good shape, according to Bob Pleasants, a cooperative extension agent in Wayne County.

He said farmers are producing tobacco transplants in greenhouses, and they look pretty good overall. They will be evaluating them over the next two to three weeks, checking for diseases and other things. Pleasants said he plans to look at some greenhouses today.

It takes about two months to produce tobacco plants in trays, and farmers are preparing their land for the plants once they have matured, said Pleasants.

He expects some farmers in the Seven Springs and Pricetown area to begin taking their trays to the field as early as next week. Farmers in the northwestern part of the county will set them later, he added.