04/05/04 — Growers take steps to protect strawberries

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Growers take steps to protect strawberries

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on April 5, 2004 1:58 PM

Strawberry farmers are continuing to protect their crop as cold weather makes its way to Wayne County.

Harold and Pam Edwards operate Elroy Farms on U.S. 70 East. They have grown strawberries for 14 years and have about 60,000 plants.

Edwards says he turns a sprinkler system on when it reaches 34 degrees and cuts it off when the temperature goes back above that degree. He said it is projected to reach 30 degrees tonight, so he will use the system for the fourth time this season.

He used it for three consecutive nights in late March. It pumps around 150 gallons per minute over the plants, berries and blooms in the field. The water freezes and makes a sheet of ice over the entire crop, protecting it from any damage.

He said most of the ice melts the next morning and his crop looks better this year than last year. He usually aims for the plants to have between four to six crowns each, which they have this year along with plenty of berries.

"We just need to get away from these cold nights," said Edwards.

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.

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 used water from his pond to spray his field last night when it dropped to 33 degrees. It was the third time this year he has taken precautions to protect his crop from the cold. The crop has successfully made it through each time, and he applies more water the following day to wash the ice away.

He hopes the wind will remain calm tonight because if there are heavy winds, it is hard to get good water coverage over the entire crop.

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.

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

Bonnie D Faulkner, a horticulture agent in Wayne County, said that those who have plants outside should cover them with burlap or a sheet to protect the blooms during the cold temperatures and then take the protection off in the morning.

A cold front sweeping south from Canada will move over the state today, bringing falling temperatures and gusty winds.

The winds are expected to die down around midnight and clear skies will allow temperatures to fall below freezing and remain there for several hours. Those conditions prompted the National Weather Service in Raleigh to issue a hard freeze warning for tonight for much of eastern North Carolina, including Wayne and neighboring counties.

Temperatures will quickly moderate tomorrow, with highs in the mid 60s expected. No rain is expected through Wednesday.

The weather service also put the county under a "Red Flag" warning today for fires. Low humidity and dry conditions raise the danger of wildfires, and burning is not recommended.