Rain threatens local strawberry crop

06/12/2013 10:30 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Strawberries from Patty’s Berries & Bunches in Mattituck on Tuesday.

A little — OK, a lot — of rain put a damper on the much anticipated North Fork strawberry season now underway.

Local farm stands said they’re pressing on despite heavy rainfall that has beleaguered the region of late and is threatening to make the berries rot before they can be sold.

“It’s not prime weather for a super strawberry crop just yet,” said Katie Reeve, the farm stand manager at Bay View Farm Market in Aquebogue. Ms. Reeve said Bay View’s strawberry patch hasn’t been opened to the public yet because of rain and that she expects it to open this weekend.

“The rain makes [the berries] almost melt a little faster,” she said. “They need a lot of sun and heat to make them nice and red and super sweet.”

[Related: How about a strawberry rhubarb pie?]

Eve Kaplan, the owner of Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market in Riverhead, had similar things to say about the strawberries at her U-Pick patch.

“They kind of get really soft and eventually they get gooey,” Ms. Kaplan said.

Tom Wickham, whose family has owned Wickham Fruit Stand in Cutchogue since the 1940s, said harvesting strawberries on the North Fork has always been a challenge. He said the season only lasts about three weeks.

“You can buy strawberries from the West Coast for months in a time at supermarkets because those farmers don’t have to deal with heavy rain,” Mr. Wickham said. “In our case, the rain always seems to be followed by hot, humid weather, just when the crop is being harvested.”

The result is berries ripen suddenly and then become soft.

“There’s nothing new to this,” Mr. Wickham said. “That’s been the nature of strawberry growing here on Long Island for at least the last 50 years. Every summer it’s the same thing. The hot, humid weather is actually worse than the rain in turn of softening up the fruit and making it susceptible to rot.”

Growers can spray fungicide on strawberries to help shield them against the disease organisms that cause rot, Mr. Wickham said, but it’s a practice he finds costly, with marginal benefit to the fruit.

“Growers of strawberries here have learned to live with, and consumers seem to understand, that they are wonderful, flavorful berries,” Mr. Wickham said. “They’re not big but they’re packed with flavor.”

ryoung@timesreview.com