AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Swap out the winter blues for spring and summer reds! With strawberry season on the cusp, people should know what to look for when picking their strawberries.
Whether picking straight from the field or from the store, picking juicy, sweet strawberries is sure to make almost any taste buds happy. According to Edgar Vinson, an Alabama Extension assistant professor of horticulture, and Chip East, a commercial horticulture regional agent, from April until the end of May, farmers across Alabama are harvesting sweet strawberries. In some cases, picking can continue into mid-June, but most harvesting takes place in the spring.
“For local markets and roadside stands, berries are picked when they are fully red with healthy, green caps,” Vinson said.
Once strawberries have been picked, they will not continue to ripen. If people feel their strawberries are red but not sweet enough, they may have been picked too soon. This is why it is important to leave them on the plant until they reach the full red color with no white spots.
“Some strawberry variations are best with a deeper red coloration,” Vinson said. “This is when they are the sweetest.”
For those who grow their own, berries can be picked at the stage of maturity that the grower likes best. According to East, the strawberry should be red through to the middle. Bite through the berry to confirm its coloring is consistent. This is recommended for those who grow their own—not ones bought in stores.
After picking or purchasing the berries, there is a short shelf life.
“Place the strawberries in the refrigerator as soon as possible,” Vinson said. “Do not clean or hull the berries before storing. Simply wash and remove the caps before eating.”
Lastly, make sure to not overcrowd the strawberries in the storage container. Leave plenty of space for air to pass through.
Strawberry Growing Success
To grow strawberries for the perfect pick, they will require consistent care.
“Strawberries need full sun, well-drained soils, adequate moisture and fertility,” Vinson said. “An oversupply or lack of any of these conditions can drastically reduce the number and quality of the berries.”
While strawberries require frequent monitoring for proper care, it is also important to guard against potential threats. The biggest threats to strawberry harvests in the late winter and early spring months are freezing temperatures and disease. While strawberries are a cool season crop, freezing temperatures will cause substantial damage to developing fruit and flowers. According to Vinson, foliar and soil-borne diseases are the two most likely to plague strawberries. In order to prevent these diseases, a proper spray schedule should keep them healthy.
Forget the winter blues and get ready to pick perfection straight from the vine. For more information on strawberries, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.