Strawberries ripe, peaches overcoming lack of cold

Fruits of labor: Mark Knight of M&M Farms in Clanton picks strawberries at the Chilton Research and Extension Center on Friday. (Photo by Stephen Dawkins)

Fruits of labor: Mark Knight of M&M Farms in Clanton picks strawberries at the Chilton Research and Extension Center on Friday. (Photo by Stephen Dawkins)

Though strawberry season is in full swing, Chilton County’s most famous crop is right around the corner.

Jim Pitts, director of the Chilton Research and Extension Center, said strawberries will likely be available through May.

Pitts said rain overnight Wednesday helped the berries, especially since the precipitation was soaking but gave way to sunshine the next day.

The season could be shortened if temperatures get too high, Pitts warned.

“If it gets hot, it’ll wind up,” he said.

By then, residents and visitors will have turned their attention to the county’s peach crop.

The amount of chill hours peach trees in the county received was less than preferable, but farmers still expect a healthy crop.

“Things still look really promising,” Pitts said. “The weather has been acceptable if not ideal.”

The low amount of chill hours can lead to a longer bloom period, said Mark Knight of M&M Farms in Clanton.

In turn, the peaches can grow and ripen at varying rates instead of all at once, as farmers might prefer.

Melissa Knight of M&M Farms said they grow a number of varieties of peaches on 55 acres off County Road 391, and some varieties appear to be producing more fruit than others.

“They’re coming on slower than usual,” Melissa Knight said.

Knight said they will wait a few weeks before thinning the trees, which is the process of removing excess buds from the trees so that what remains can grow into larger fruit.

The Knights will wait to thin the trees because of what is know as “May drop,” where some peaches on trees don’t develop as desired or fall off altogether.

Pitts said the phenomenon, which can take place in April, can sometimes be blamed on cold that damages the buds.

Other times, it’s not clear what causes May drop.

“Some years are worse than other years, and we’re not always sure why,” Pitts said. “We really don’t think we’ve had anything that would have caused that this year. It’s just a part of growing them. You just expect to see that.”

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