Warm weather has led to an early production season for strawberries, but Clyde Gurosik said it’s also led to stormy weather that hasn’t been good for the fruit.
Gurosik’s Berry Plantation opened this week for U-Pik, a few days behind schedule as a result of the weather. Strawberries do not like heat or rain, he said, and his workers have had to throw away large volumes of berries because of water damage. Typically, the farm is open by Easter.
“We are having to discard a lot of fruit,” he said. “It doesn’t look normal.”
It takes a while to weed through 12 acres of strawberries to pick out the water-damaged ones, Gurosik said, but the good thing about strawberries is that they produce every three days.
Strawberries ripened about 10 days early because of the unusually warm spring, Gurosik said, and he began selling pre-picked berries on March 24.
Only three of six roadside markets were operating as of last week because of the strawberry shortage. In North Augusta, people can purchase strawberries at the farm market or at Wacky Wayne’s on Exit 1.
Strawberries also can be purchased at the Augusta Market at the River held Saturdays.
Not only has the weather led to fewer roadside markets operating at the beginning of the season, it has also delayed Gurosik from supplying for his wholesale markets in Columbia, Charleston, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C.
Gurosik said that on April 2 temperatures were 18 degrees above normal temperatures for early April.
Lettuce, spinach and artichoke are also in season at the farm. The heat may soon take a toll on these as well, he said.
“It will quit soon,” he said. “It does not like these kinds of temperatures.”
Spring was bypassed, and summer began in its place, he said.
The warmer-than-usual weather will also affect homeowners, he said, noting that people will have more issues with fungus and insects.
Other fruit at the farm may produce earlier this year because of the warm weather, too, he said.
Blackberries also bloomed 10 days earlier than usual, and they may be available earlier than the end of May. Peaches might also be ready by early May, he said.
Gurosik said his blueberries are fine, but he has friends in Georgia who had bushes bloom in February that were affected by cold weather afterward.
With the warm Easter this year, Gurosik said peach farmers did not face the same devastation that happened in 2007.
“The last time that Easter was on April 8, the temperature was 22 degrees,” he said. “It destroyed 80 percent of the peach crop in the state of South Carolina.”
The “old farmer rule of thumb” is that the last freeze is usually around Easter, though he said the latest he’s seen was April 25, 2005.
Farmers may be in the clear for a late freeze this year, but Gurosik said the weather has left some farmers’ ponds empty, and they are their irrigation source.
“We ended the year 15 inches short for normal rainfall and we’re already short this year,” Gurosik said. “I have seen many ponds that never filled during the winter.”
He had to refill his three ponds, which were two-thirds empty, by pumping water from a stream with a diesel truck. That left him with a hefty bill.
“Each pond holds 7 million gallons (of water),” he said.
Strawberry season usually lasts from the first week of April through July 4, he said, but with the weather, it’s unpredictable.
“(It is) in God’s hands,” he said. “No one else knows. … We are just tools and we do the best we can with what we know, and all the rest is in his hand.”
Schoolchildren will hit the fields once more this year learning about the farm, beginning with the first group on Thursday. About 3,000 children go through the fields each year learning about strawberries and picking their own to take home.