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Sweet strawberries ready to pick

By JOYANNA LOVE/Senior Staff Writer

VERBENA — This year’s strawberry crop is ready a little early.

“They are looking really good right now,” Keith Evans of Sugar Hill U-Pick Farms said.

Favorable weather conditions for strawberries has started the picking season two weeks earlier than normal.

Evans said this means the picking season will be longer this year.

Keeping disease away from the strawberry plants and favorable weather conditions are crucial to a good strawberry crop.

“Rain hurts you a lot,” Evans said. “They get ripe and then it rains on them and they lay on that plastic and it basically ruins the berries.”

Black plastic used in the strawberry fields helps control moisture.

“If we don’t get a lot of rain, we can control the water to the plant through irrigation that’s under the plastic,” Evans said.

Too much water can impact the sweetness of the strawberries. Evans said Sugar Hill U-Pick mostly grows the camarosa variety.

“These berries that we grow, they have a better shelf life … and these berries, even when it rains, these berries seem to have a better flavor,” Evans said.

His favorite way to eat strawberries is “right off the vine or with ice cream.”

“That’s one good thing about these berries, once they get into the peak season, you bite into them and they are just super sweet berries,” Evans said. “You don’t need to add a lot of sugar.”

While many of the berries are ripe, peak season for sweetness is usually late April/ early May. However, Evans said even the early berries are sweet this year.

“You’ll notice they have a sweeter smell to them,” Evans said.

Color is a key indicator in determining the ripeness of a strawberry. Evans said the darker red a berry is the sweeter it will be. Once a strawberry is picked, Evans said it does not continue to ripen like some other fruits do. Evans advised against wearing sunglasses while berry picking because it will make it hard to determine the redness of the berries.

Michelle Evans of Sugar Hill U-Pick Farms said fresh-picked strawberries are best when kept on a counter in a breathable container for a few days.

“If you do that, they last several days,” Michelle Evans said.

She said the berries can be refrigerated, “but we don’t really recommend it unless you are going to keep them for a long time.”

The berries should not be washed until right before eating, Keith Evans said.

Stems should also be intact until right before eating. Evans said removing the stem causes the berries to go bad quicker.

Sugar Hill is open Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Cost to pick your own bucket is $8.00. Pre-picked baskets of strawberries are available for $10

Sugar Hill is located at 3358 County Road 59 in Verbena.