YORK COUNTY — As temperatures have see-sawed from below freezing to the mid-80s in recent weeks, York County growers have scrambled to protect delicate strawberries as they begin to ripen.
“Two weeks ago, we were frost protecting them because of the cold,” said Sam Hall, son of Bush-N-Vine owner Bob Hall. “We covered them and ran water over the top of them because it was getting in the low to mid 20s.”
“Yesterday, we ran water on them to cool them down because it was getting too hot for them,” he said. “It’s been a crazy spring, but they’re doing really well. … They are starting to ripen well.”
Hall said Bush-N-Vine, with about seven acres of strawberries off U.S. 321 between York and Clover, has started to pick its spring berries. “We expect to be in full swing picking strawberries within the next week or so,” he said.
The farm – which also sells berries grown in tunnels for most of the year, except for late summer and early fall – plans to host its annual strawberry festival on Saturday, April 27, he said.
The farm’s popular pick-your-own strawberry fields will be open before the festival, he said, although he’s not sure exactly when. “Pick you own might not start until that week,” he said.
Hall and other Western York County growers said berries, peaches and other produce are developing on a typical schedule this year, after two consecutive years of warm springs, when crops ripened early.
“We’re back to a normal spring now,” said Arthur Black, the owner of Black’s Peaches on S.C. 5 west of York. “The past two years we’d have a warm spell and things started quicker.
“We’re fixing up a tomato patch right now, and we’re going to set out about an acre of tomatoes,” Black said. “Last year, we did that about 10 days ahead of this. You just have to go with what the master sends you, I guess.”
Black, who grows about 75 acres of peaches, including 30 varieties, said he had some damage to three varieties during a cold snap a few weeks ago. “But other than that, we’re in good shape,” he said.
Peach picking begins about the first of June, he said.
Black said he planted about a quarter acre of strawberries – a smaller crop than he has grown in the past – but plans to sell strawberries produced by another local grower.
“I’ll have plenty of strawberries because I’ve got a neighbor, and I worked out a deal with him, so I’m going to market his. I’ll have locally grown strawberries in a week or 10 days.”
Ben Smith, owner of The Peach Tree, said he’ll also be selling berries produced by another grower at his stand on U.S. 321. He said he didn’t lose any peaches during the recent cold snap.
“The peaches are doing really well right now,” said Smith, who grows about 23 varieties of peaches on 44 acres. “We’ve got a full crop on every variety we’ve got. If hail don’t come along, we’re in real good shape.”
Hall said the local strawberry crop usually reaches its peak around Mother’s Day and begins to slow down after the middle of May. “We usually continue to pick until mid-June,” he said. “We’re just not picking the same volume of strawberries that we will be until mid-May.”