Cool Spring Puts a Damper on Strawberry Celebrations

5/18/2013 7:00 AM
By Ann Wilmer Delaware Correspondent

For many Eastern Shoremen, Mother’s Day celebrations almost always involve strawberry shortcake, but this year has been too cool for local strawberries.

Local strawberries are flowering and even boasting some little green fruits. Fifer Orchards, just outside Camden-Wyoming, Del., expects a bountiful crop but it may be two weeks before the customers can pick their own — a feature of the strawberry festivals for the past seven years.

“Last year we were at the end of the strawberry season at festival time,” said Michael Fennemore of Fifer Orchards. “It’s been an unusually cool spring. An east wind off the ocean drops the temperature 10 degrees.”

There’s also been a plant virus from the nursery that has made the plants slower to mature, but it won’t affect the fruit.

However, the strawberry festival will be celebrated again today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be the eighth event that features locally grown produce, music, food and family fun. The only thing missing this year will be the chance for families to pick their own strawberries.

Fennemore said when the strawberries first begin to ripen, workers begin to pick them, but within a week to 10 days, the percentage of ripe berries is high enough to send consumers into the field. The strawberries at his Farm & Country Store have been brought up from Virginia and North Carolina. They are excellent but they’re not local. So that means U-pick will have to wait.

He observed that it has been a wet spring too. He hopes there will be clear weather ahead for the strawberry harvest. When rain deluges ripe strawberries, they can become waterlogged. The flavor is watered down and wet fruit rots more quickly. However, the rain from this spring has raised the water table and that will make irrigation easier during dry periods.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of fresh produce at the Farm & Country Store. Weather that’s inhospitable for strawberries has been kind to other produce. This year’s asparagus has been very high quality. Peas, like strawberries, will be a little later this year. Based on the tomatoes and strawberries he’s seen this year, he said southern produce has been high quality. Tomatoes and strawberries come from Virginia and North Carolina. And they’re selling potted tomato and herb plants.

Fennemore’s great-grandfather came to Delaware in 1919 to find land suitable for the crops he wanted to grow. Charles Frederick Fifer moved his family from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the fertile lands of Kent County, Del., to grow high quality fruits and vegetables including peaches, pears, grapes, apples, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, lima beans, asparagus and strawberries.

Fifer understood that farming is inherently a gamble and that having all your eggs in one basket can lead to disaster. His vision was accurate and this philosophy is what has enabled the farm to weather many storms and challenges over the last 90-plus years.

He saw the danger inherent in monoculture and instilled into his children that diversity was their best insurance. That philosophy has been passed down and is now being instilled to a fifth generation.

Diversity is also good for the retail business. Fifer Orchards sells its produce at the Farm & Country Store on the main farm and at a farm stand in Lewes, Del.

The production of produce is labor intensive, making it easy to keep farmworkers busy throughout the season.

You can find Fifer Orchard products at a number of area food stores and restaurants, as well as seasonal farm markets in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. It also distributes produce to local residents through an 18-week community supported agriculture program.

Admission and parking to the strawberry festival is free and so is the live music. Check out the list of other local vendors who are offering entertainment for a fee or selling food or other products and plan for a day of family fun. For up-to-date information, check out Fifer Orchard on the web:

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