June 9

The  last few weeks  have been a  whirlwind as  the rush of planting season has been coupled with some abnormally  late frost events and  cool nights. Nonetheless, Mother Nature  marches  on as we start harvesting  the first early fruit from  our strawberry beds on black  plastic. This system of raising berries is an adaptation of  a method that comes to us  from California and the deep south originally and  like  all good ideas,  it has its drawbacks. The drawbacks are the plants  bloom very early in the spring and are subject to frost damage, meaning more nights of pumping water to protect them. There is  additional expense in the  plastic mulch and drip tape that is used in the system of developing the bed, and  an upfront  cost of   additional plants   because  the way the system  functions depends  on a much higher plant population per acre  as compared to a traditional matted row system, (which constitutes the  majority of what we still do here on the farm.) The plus side of the equation is  twofold for us;  earliness is the main factor, but  there is another subtle benefit for us. With plasticulture we can  bring a given acreage of land into meaningful production in half the time, essentially allowing us to double crop our land in the summer.This is because traditional matted row strawberry beds take a full year to establish, whereas a matted row system allows you to fall plant, thus allowing  you to produce a short season vegetable crop on the same land as well. So it fills a void for those of us with limited acreage, allowing us to utilize our already short season here in the northeast. We  still do both traditional mattted row as well as  some plasticulture…. they both have their places.

People often ask about  how the crop looks, and I usually  respond  given the  amount of winter injury that I can see in the plants as they come out of the winter. The truth is, not only is  this a  guessing game, but it has little bearing on the profitablility of the crop for us. The plants  can  be  in the best of  shape and loaded with  fruit going  into the harvest season   only to loose a high percentage to fruit rot if the weather  turns dark and damp. This is  particularly a problem with a dependence  upon  Pick Your Own for harvesting….the  PYO crowd  only works  on nice sunny days.  So, you can have a great crop only to loose it at the very last  minute due to  uncooperative weather. On the other hand, you can have a  rough winter and light fruit set and if the weather is relatively cool,sunny and dry during the harvest season you might  harvest a higher percentage of good  berries  harvested between the farm and PYO crews and actually make out better financially.It is really a crap shoot.

So this tempers our enthusiasm  as we enter our  33rd strawberry season. It’s early in the season and the  plants  endured a fair amount of winter injury.  But the weather of late has been good for the  plants with no extreme heat and a fair  amount of sun despite the unseasonally cool nights. The  birds and ground varmints havent really  arrived yet to extract their  pound of flesh from the crop, so their is an air of anticpation about here. We shift our focus as greenhouse sales wind down a bit and we ready ourselves  to open the farmstand in a couple of days and the strawberries will be on the shelves when we do. If you see  me and and ask me if it looks like a good year for the strawberries,  don’t be surprised if I shrug  my shoulders. I am a believer in the words of  that  great Yankees baseball catcher Yogi Berra who said “It aint over till it’s over…”

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