Local strawberries ripening right on schedule this year

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | It's strawberry season once again on the North Fork.

Two years ago, 19 days of rain in June ruined much of the North Fork’s strawberry crop, waterlogging and damaging the tender fruit during the one month they’re available here.

Then last year, strawberries and many other crops were about two weeks ahead of schedule, As a result, the season was all but over by Father’s Day weekend, the time of the annual Mattituck Strawberry Festival.

This year, though, strawberries are ripening right on schedule, growers across the North Fork said.

“Last year was a fluky year. They were so early that people didn’t expect them,” said Patty DiVello, owner of Patty’s Berries & Bunches on Sound Avenue in Mattituck. “They’ve been good this year. The weather’s good and people are happy with the quality.”

Minding her grandparents’ U-pick patch at the Domaleski Farm on Route 48 in Cutchogue Thursday afternoon, Eileen Kennedy agreed.

“They started two weeks ago, right on time,” she said. “They’ve been really sweet.”

Richard Anderson was doing brisk business at his U-pick and wholesale farm on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead Friday morning.

He grows five varieties of berries on a little more than five acres.

“We try to grow the sweetest varieties,” he said. “We have some of everything, and it’s good quality. We started picking on June 1, which is about normal.”

Mr. Anderson said that ideally strawberries like dry weather and moderate temperatures. Though his strawberry patch had gone through an intense thunderstorm the previous evening, he said that the berries were unharmed and benefited from the moisture, after a week of near 90 degree temperatures.

He hopes to provide strawberries for the Mattituck festival this weekend.

The Lions Club’s annual Strawberry Festival, now in its 57th year, began as a one-day local event on the grounds of the Mattituck High School in 1954. That was after several club members visited a similar festival while on a trip to Florida. It has since expanded to a three-day event, with carnival rides and a full contingent of vendors on the Route 48 property named “Strawberry Fields” in honor of the festival.

Dr. Phil Centonze, who handle’s the festival’s public, said that he expects organizers will be able to use more local berries than in recent years.

“Last year, the strawberry crop peaked two weeks before the festival. That’s very rare,” he said. “We use thousands of quarts of strawberries. I would beg to say that we basically monopolize the strawberry crops on the North Fork. In the old days, it was a one-day festival at the high school, and we ran out of shortcake by 5 o’clock. Now it’s Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we just don’t run out.”

As they have every year, the festival committee will open up the grounds to volunteers to hull the berries on Thursday night beginning at 5 p.m.

Though strawberry pickers have already gleaned a good deal of fruit from the North Fork’s fields, Ms. DiVello said that she and other growers plant several varieties that mature at different points in the month of June, ensuring that there will be plenty more berries later this season.

The daughter of famed farmer Edward Harbes, who died last year, she plants seven different varieties on seven acres of the Harbes Farm on Route 48. She has run the Harbes’ berry stand there for 17 years. At her daughter’s urging, she changed the stand’s name to Patty’s last year.

Her biggest concern is the weather. She’d been hearing reports of the potential for hail last week as heavy thunderstorms were predicted.

“Last year, Orient got it and Aquebogue got it, but I was missed,” she said of a potential crop-destroying hailstorm.

Whether or not the hail stays away, Ms. DiVello will only have two more short weeks to stay up nights worrying about the climate’s effect on her strawberries.

“Strawberry season is June, June, June, she said. “They know when June is done and they just leave.”

[email protected]