Strawberry lovers can take some heart in the wet spring weather: they’ll be enjoying nice, plump berries in fairly short order.
Running a little late due to the same wet weather conditions, berry season is almost upon us. Rain or shine, however, the first big harvest always means plenty of toil for growers.
“There’s one thing that’s obvious and that’s the demand for strawberries, but there’s a pile of work involved. I’ve seen quite a few growers come and go because it can get quite overwhelming at times, the workload,” said Floradale Berry Farm owner Leonard Martin.
Even a good harvest can take a lot out of a farmer, but at least here customers can help by sometimes picking their own berries.
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“There is a huge demand,” said Martin.
There’s much work to be done before strawberries can move from farm field to dinner table, all producers agree. During the dry weather last summer, for instance, farmers spent much of the time irrigating the fields, and though smaller berries graced the bushes, the strawberry season was saved while many other local products suffered.
So far this season, too much wetness has been the issue. One of the concerns growers have with a rainier spring is a chance for mould to develop. They minimize the danger by lining the base of the plants with straw bedding to keep out moisture, picking berries more frequently and removing affected plants to avoid contamination.There is nothing like a good rain, however, producer Lydia Bauman maintains, to grow the bigger strawberries. Bauman, of Valley Springs in St. Jacobs, said where the heat made for smaller strawberries last year, the current cooler, wetter weather will likely bring larger, tarter strawberries to consumers.
“It’s later this year than other years because we had a cool spring, so the first ones are [just] turning pink out there and we are excited.”
Some producers are just starting to integrate different growing methods and species of plants, Stuart Horst said this week while at his Arthur Street business, Floralane Farmers Market. Varieties of the plant like dayneutral strawberries are slowly being introduced into local markets.
“I believe there is a market locally when people begin to understand that these berries are available during [all of] the summer months,” he said.
Dayneutral strawberries are uniquely different from their “junebearing” counterparts according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. While conventional strawberries peak in June when days are longest, dayneutral berries flower and fruit continuously and the production cycle peaks every six weeks as soon as temperatures are ideal.
“The dayneutrals aren’t really that popular yet in Ontario, there’s more people trialing them. Dayneutral berries are relatively new to this province. Primarily the varieties we use are the varieties from California,” Horst said.
More than a dozen local farms and businesses deal in freshly grown strawberries in the region and it’s no surprise as Ontario plays a significant role in Canada’s strawberry production. Strawberries are grown on 4,191 hectares across the country, according to Health Canada, with the majority sprouting out of farmers’ markets and U-pick operations in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.
There’s much to be said about strawberries straight from the field, and organic growing methods add a little something to the taste, said Selema Martin of Fresh Garden Produce in Elmira.
“It’s much better out of a garden fresh than exported from other places.”
A number of local berry hotspots in Wellesley and Woolwich townships can be found on the Foodlink Waterloo Region website.
Strawberry season is experiencing a slower start this year, but once baskets get full you can be sure to find a sea of red at this year’s Bloomingdale strawberry social on June 19, just one of the local events heralding the arrival of berry season. The 37th annual event at the Bloomingdale Community Centre, located at 1031 Snyder’s Flats Rd., will feature a variety of berry-based concoctions, including the ever-popular strawberry shortcakes. The event begins at 5 p.m. For more information contact the Bloomingdale Community Centre at 519-741-9671.