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The Forecast Is Berry Good

Last year's strawberries awaiting buyers at an Alexandria farmers market. (James Thresher -- The Washington Post)

Heavy rains have been pelting the area’s strawberry fields, but it’s hard to find a grower who doesn’t sound sunny about this year’s crop.

Farmers say the recent downpours haven’t harmed the harvest, and a relatively frost-free spring has helped it. They predict that berries will be plentiful and will cost about the same as, or slightly more than, last year’s supply. Picking started in earnest last week in Virginia; Maryland is usually a week or more behind. A small supply just started showing up at area farmers markets.

At Westmoreland Berry Farm on Virginia’s Northern Neck, the pick-your-own season opened Sunday. Employee Martha Sichol said that though fields there are muddy, the berries avoided becoming waterlogged because they’re grown in mounds over plastic. A quart of already-picked berries costs $4.50, up from $4.35 last year, and the PYO price is unchanged at $2.20 a pound.

“We’re going to have a bumper crop,” said Debbie Zurschmeide, an owner at Great Country Farms in Bluemont. The rain had an effect, she said, but only that “it basically bumped us back about a week.” The fields should open May 23. Last year’s already-picked price of $4.50 a quart won’t change, and the PYO price will be last year’s $2.29 a pound “or close,” Zurschmeide said.

Susan Butler, an owner of Butler's Orchard in Germantown, says her crop “looks really good.” She doesn’t expect picking to start until after Memorial Day. Butler’s prices will be the same as last year’s: $5.29 a quart picked, $1.99 a pound for PYO.

At Rock Hill Orchard in Mount Airy, owner Dick Biggs says it “looks like a decent crop,” if he can keep out the marauding deer. Because of his field’s higher elevation (and cooler temperatures), he doesn’t expect sales to start until the end of May at the earliest. For picked berries, he plans to charge $5.20 a quart, up a nickel from last year, and the PYO price should be unchanged at $1.99 a pound. “Each year we sell more already-picked than pick-your-own,” Biggs said. But in tighter economic times, he added, that might change.

You might have thought all the rain would be causing more of a problem. Not so, said Leslie Blischak of the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Leesburg. The weather has been cool enough to discourage the growth of fungus that might otherwise glom on to wet plants, she said. And because most berries haven't gotten past the green stage, they're not as prone to turning spongelike and soggy.

If you’re heading out to a farm to either buy or pick, always call first to confirm hours and crop availability; not all farms offer picking seven days a week. Some PYO places want you to bring your own containers. Also, you should know that some farms charge admission fees. That’s because many of them have turned into family “destinations,” with petting zoos, hayrides, field tours and other forms of agri-tainment. Again, call ahead to find out.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  May 12, 2009; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  To Market, To Market  | Tags: Jane Touzalin, strawberries  
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Next: Barton, You're Such a Briner


This is what I like to hear. Fresh berries and jam time!

Posted by: Lindemann777 | May 12, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

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