Central, Southside experience early strawberry season

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2023

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May officially ushers in strawberry season, but thanks to an early start, Virginia farmers predict the picking window may last a little longer this year.

Above-average temperatures this winter led to early blooming strawberries, and many farms opened weeks ahead of schedule.

Vaughan Farm’s Produce in Virginia Beach opened for its earliest U-pick season yet on March 26 after strawberry plants began flowering in February.

“We had to make a decision whether to let Mother Nature take them with a frost or try to save them,” said Robert Vaughan, the farm’s owner and a Virginia Beach Farm Bureau member.

After covering his strawberries from frost for about 12 days in March, Vaughan salvaged all the flowers and kicked off the season with an abundance of ripe, ready-to-pick strawberries.

Strawberries grown on Holly Fork Farm in New Kent County typically are ripe for picking April 30, but they were ready a week early this year, said owner Stephanie Ripchick, who also is a Virginia Beach Farm Bureau member.

Fortunately, she said, her farm’s early blooming strawberries haven’t suffered from a frost event since row covers have been removed for the season.

“We gamble every day, hoping we don’t have any more frost at the farm,” Ripchick added, as frosts in Virginia can occur as late as May.

But her hopes are high. While strawberries are usually difficult to pick this early in the season, Ripchick’s U-pick visitors can fill a gallon in just 10 to 15 minutes with Chandler strawberries. They are a mid-season variety favored by many Virginia growers, according to the most recent Virginia Cooperative Extension survey of strawberry practices in the commonwealth.

Vaughan’s farm also grows Chandlers, along with Ruby Junes and Sweet Charlies.

Both farms previously have had ripe strawberries through mid-June and are hopeful cooler May weather will mean another prolonged season.

He encourages consumers to beat the Mother’s Day crowd, and pick strawberries now.

“It’s going to be a really good season.”

To find fresh strawberries near you, visit vdacs.virginia. gov/vagrown.