Strawberry season on target for its spring debut

Published 3:24 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022

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A minor Virginia crop with major distinction is in full bloom, putting strawberries on track for a strong 2022 season.

About 390 acres of strawberries are grown in Virginia, according to data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, with most of the fruit produced in Virginia Beach. Limited rain and frost this growing season has the area’s crop looking good, said Roy Flanagan, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Virginia Beach.

“The fruit should emerge within the next couple weeks,” he said. “The majority of the blooms expressed were saved from the cold weather, so we’re on track.”

Virginia strawberries are typically planted in mid-autumn, and ready for harvest throughout May and into June.

“If the season allows us, we go a little farther,” Flanagan added.

Strawberry acreage may increase in the next agricultural census, as Warren Farms has returned to the scene after decades out of the business. Farm operator Woody Warren repurposed his grandfather’s Chesapeake dairy farm into an agritourism enterprise where the public can pick their own strawberries—an agricultural oasis amid encroaching development.

“We did well with strawberries before,” said Warren, a Chesapeake Farm Bureau member. “They were so good, and people really liked them. We’re back, but it’s a whole other ballgame now. I forgot how much work was involved!”

The family is growing more than 3 acres of U-pick Chandler, Sweet Charlie and Ruby June varieties in Tink’s Berry Patch, named for his father, the late Charles R. “Tink” Warren Jr.

About 100 miles northwest, Henrico County Farm Bureau member Steve Gallmeyer, owner of Gallmeyer Farms Berry Patch, is keeping an eye on the weather. A few frigid nights hurt some blooms.

“But they’re doing better than last year when they suffered a lot of frost damage,” he explained. “Blooms opened, it would frost and kill those blooms, and then it would happen again. That was a real whammy.”

The patch is projected to open to pickers within the first week of May.

Gallmeyer added two new varieties this year — Darselect and Jewel. Darselects are vigorous growers, producing fruit that is sweet and firm. Jewels perform well in a range of growing conditions, known for producing large, flavorful berries.

The berries are grown in straw-mulched matted rows and not covered with plastic. “We don’t have frost protection,” Gallmeyer explained. “We’re in partnership with Mother Nature who will let us know if we’re going to have a crop or not! But it will be a beautiful field, with more to choose from this year.”