Strawberry season has arrived, and this year the strawberries in the Northeast are ripening with particularly strong flavor. Over the past couple of days, I’ve tasted some of the first strawberries at Lookout Farm in South Natick. The farm is hoping to start picking the weekend of June 12. I think this year is going to bring some of the best-tasting berries of recent memory. They, like other farms, will be offering picking to the public over the coming weeks. You definitely want to call ahead before driving to any of your favorite farms.
I think the reason the berries have such intense flavor is the dry and cool weather we have seen most of the spring. If you think about something like grapes, their flavor becomes more concentrated in drier years. This is why certain vintages of wine are so much better than others. The lack of rain in May allows the berries to form with less water content and more sugar concentration. There have been years with a lot of rain, where the taste of the berries is lost in all the juice from so much water.
Grow your own.
To grow strawberries successfully give them full sunshine, evenly moist, well-drained soil, and an area without weeds. You can grow them in containers as well. If you do, move them into an unheated garage around Thanksgiving, and then put them back outside after the snow melts. Farmers grow them in long rows, and many are using heavy weed barrier to grow the plants. This keeps weeds out and lets the water in. Straw is used to cover the strawberries in winter and protect the tender crop from winter damage. The straw is then moved in between the rows for easy walking and picking. Using organic material is great, but it can also attract slugs, a huge nemesis of strawberry farmers.
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Strawberries are harvested during a relatively short but wonderful season. Everbearing strawberries will give you fruit all summer, but the flush is much more sporadic. Most varieties are also a fairly easy crop to grow at home; if that is, you can keep the critters and birds from eating them. A small area with 20 or so plants will provide a family of four with enough berries for several weeks during June, earlier if you are south of New England. Look for disease-resistant varieties, and mix early: Mid and late-season strawberries extend your season
This link, how to grow strawberries, will give you much more information about growing successful berries. The great thing about strawberry plants is they will bear fruit for several years, so you don’t have to keep planting new ones every year as you would things like tomatoes and peppers.