Fresh Crop: Strawberries!

5/3/2011 Update:

Click here for the 2011 Pick-Your-Own Farms list.

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The strawberries are here!  And now begins our wonderful rotation of seasonal fruit. Charlotte Fresh was so excited to hit one of her favorite pick-your-own farms, Hall Family Farm, on opening day – today, Friday, April 15th.  I was there at 9:00am on the dot.  When I said ‘hi’ to farmer/owner Kevin Hall, he told me I was customer number two. (Drat! I was hoping to be the first one.) Kevin and his family have an awesome farm in Ballantyne; you can learn more about their history on their website.

Check out these fields and the early birds with me today:

The plants go on forever!

The plants go on forever!

Early birds

Early birds

Look how healthy! Row upon row...

Look how healthy! Row upon row...

I picked at my leisure and chatted with Kevin for a bit.  Here’s a look at my haul; the strawberries are as beautiful and sweet as can be.

Wow!  Six quarts!

Wow! Six quarts!

We’ve had some really strange weather this season with hot days in February, some intermittent frost and a lot of recent storms.  (CF and hubby were those unfortunate folks without power for a couple of days.)   Thank goodness this most recent hail storm didn’t damage Hall’s crop.  This kind of wacky weather makes things difficult for all farmers, including berry farmers.  Strawberry plants are perennials that reproduce asexually; from their crowns, they send out stems called runners to make daughter plants.  Kevin educated me that when the heat gets up to 90 degrees too soon, the plants stop blossoming and send all their energy into making runners.  That means no more berries. Boo.  We will see if the early heat wave shortens this year’s season.  Let’s hope not!

Hall Family Farm has fun stuff for the kids:

Take fun family pics

Take fun family pics

Play in the berry maze

Play in the berry maze

Where to find Hall Family Farm: 10713 Providence Road West in Ballantyne.

If you live far from Hall Family Farm, you can try the North Carolina Strawberries site. There is a farm locator on there.  Also, this weekend the Matthews Farmers’ Market plans to have Cody Strawberry Farm on site.

Tips if you go strawberry picking (you can also be lazy and buy pre-picked on a farm for a higher price per pound):

  • Check with the farm for hours and go during off-peak times.  During the day, there can be school tours which keep the farmers busy.
  • Bring cash or ask if they take other forms of payment.
  • When you pick, pinch the stems carefully so you don’t damage unripened fruit or the plant.
  • Unless you’re going to eat them all in one day, pick berries with a variety of firmness.  They’ll get soft during the car ride home so bring a cooler.
  • Wear sunscreen and a good hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Bring and drink plenty of water.
  • It’s a great activity for families, but small children might have short attention spans for picking.  Educate them along the way about what they’re doing, how strawberries grow, and take frequent breaks.  Let them play in mazes, etc. that the farmers may have set up.
  • Don’t sneak and eat berries in the field.  It’s not nice to the farmer who has worked hard for the crop, and you really should wash them.
  • If you have concerns, ask your farmer about any pesticides he/she might need to use for bad pest outbreaks and about fungicides (which are typically necessary to protect strawberry plants).

You might ask me what I am going to do with six quarts of strawberries (and the ones I will pick weekly during the brief season).

  1. Fight over them with hubby to eat them straight (the best!  I have a head start over his share today), and put them in recipes that I will share with you.
  2. Freeze some for later – they keep their nutritional value. (Place a layer of strawberries on a cookie sheet in the freezer.  When frozen, place in freezer bags, containers, or vacuum pack.)
  3. Learn how to can them; we love strawberry jam.

Yes, this year, I really want to work on my canning skills so I can preserve the goodness of fruit year-round.  I’ve canned once with a friend, and well, I’ll spare you the details.  Let’s just say dark brown strawberry jam is not an ideal outcome.  I just bought some canning supplies and a trusty Ball canning book at one of my favorite stores in Matthews, Renfrow Hardware.  (They wished me good luck.)  Hubby and I will work on the canning this weekend, and hopefully I will have results to show you.  Preserving and “putting up food” are great techniques to have great tastes year-round.  Last year I worked with my food dehydrator that I’ll tell you about later.  And it worked out well freezing fruit last summer; hubby and I ate our last peach cobbler just a couple of weeks ago.

I like to send out links to the pick-your-own farms around this time of year, but I don’t believe the Charlotte Observer has the 2011 farm list out yet.  In the meantime, you can check out their 2010 pick-your-own farm list here.  I will send out the updated link when I receive it.

Look out for some fresh strawberry recipes in my next post!

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About charlottefresh

Helping Charlotte find fresh local food. Spread the word.
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