Last year, strawberry growers were optimistic at the end of April. Their plants were covered in bloom and many farms were able to sell local strawberries in mid-May.
This year, after a hint of early spring the first two weeks of March, the mid-Atlantic region has not experienced the same weather consistency. Many areas of Lancaster County were hit with freezing overnight temperatures during the last week of April.
A year ago, strawberry plants were showing flowers and blooms of nearly 40% on some farms. This year, in April, the flowers were minimal and many farmers still had their strawberries covered.
Strawberry season 2021 has been a near record year for many. Curvin Nolt of Everfresh Produce in New Holland, Pennsylvania thinks 2022 will be an intense season that will produce a big harvest in a short time.
What a difference a year makes.
“We’re not panicking yet,” Nolt told me over Easter weekend and again on April 30 as I photographed his wobbler sprinkler system soaking plants with water that froze around strawberry flowers. To protect them.
“We probably won’t be ready until Memorial Day, like we were last year, but if we get some sunshine and warm days over the next few weeks, we won’t be too far behind,” he said. -he declares.
What makes farmers like Nolt a little nervous are the atypical conditions. Kyle Elliott, director of the Millersville University Meteorological Center, confirmed their discomfort in conversations I had with him in mid and late April.
“Based on the spring weather so far,” he said, “farmers have reason to be concerned.”
Looking back, he said, March is always a month of transition in the mid-Atlantic, but this year it was “the epitome of a wild roller coaster.”
For parts of Lancaster County, the heaviest snowfall of the season (about 3 inches) fell on March 13 with temperatures well below freezing for five straight days. “March weather in 2022 was more like February weather in our area,” Elliott said.
The colder than normal March continued into April (with a short warm-up in the third week) in our region, Elliot said, until the last days of the month.
“It was certainly cold the last two mornings of last week in April with low temperatures in urban areas above freezing, but not in the outermost areas and deepest valleys where they dipped into the 20s,” he said. “The problem we faced is called high latitude blocking. This is a persistent high pressure system over the North Atlantic, Greenland and eastern Canada and has caused the colder air usually bottled up near the North Pole to drop southward in the northeastern United States. The Jet Stream, which can be considered a corridor of strong winds at speeds close to the level at which jet aircraft fly, was forced south by this atmospheric congestion, preventing the typical spring heat from remaining for more than 2 -3 days at a time.
Elliott senses the high latitude blockage is breaking down but could come back one last time, and if it does, we’re likely to see a few cooler, cloudy, and wetter days. But the good news, says Elliott, is “I believe we’ve seen our last freeze of the season.”
Craig Pullman is a fifth-generation grower at Pullman Family Farms in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountain Range, about 140 miles north of Lancaster. They have nearly 15 acres of strawberries, and nearly 12 of those acres are dedicated to customers picking their own berries starting in early June.
I checked with Pullman in mid-April and again on the last day of the month to see how his berries were doing in one of the coldest areas in the state. He said his berries were still under cover and protected, and he had no intention of uncovering them until he saw new green growth. Despite cooler than normal temperatures, he was optimistic at the time that 2022 will be another good strawberry season.
I contacted Pullman again on April 30 for an update. He is still confident his crop will ripen as expected and will ripen at around the same time despite a week of temperatures dropping to 30 degrees each night.
“We discovered our plants the last week of April,” Pullman said, “and although we had some new growth, there were no flowers, so even with the freezing temperatures which probably had them a bit delayed, we didn’t have to turn on the sprinklers.
Pullman told me he checked his 2016 records, for the same week in April, and found a 26 degree night followed by warmer weather in May that year, which made ripening his plants and allowed him to open the farm for picking in early June.
Like many in the strawberry business in 2021, Pullman Family Farms had a bumper crop, “and we had the customers to pick them,” Crain Pullman told me during our phone conversation. “We are hoping for the same type of 2022 season.”
Pullman Farms grows perennial strawberries that provide a harvest for up to five years with rejuvenation after each harvest.
“Due to the colder winter weather at Clarks Summit,” Pullman said, “we were lucky to grow a hearty Canadian berry called Mira that worked for them for years.”
South of the Pennsylvania line in Woodbine, Maryland, west of Baltimore, the Moore family of Larriland Farm had also not (late April) seen any blooms on their strawberry plants, but, says Emily Moore, who s marketing the farm, “It’s not too unusual, and there’s plenty of time for the berries to grow and ripen before our traditional opening in early June.”
Larriland had an abundance of berries last year that ripened early, allowing them to open the day after Memorial Day.
Strawberry and all fruit growers have their fingers crossed that May brings true spring weather to the mid-Atlantic and fruits like strawberries and peaches ripen in warm, sunny weather to be harvested near their dates. planned annuals.
Correspondent Art Petrosemolo is a big fan of strawberries and has four dozen jars of jam ready for canning in early June.