The Hunt for Red Strawberries
by Mary Jasch
It’s been decades since I’ve tasted strawberries as sweet as the wild ones I hunted for as a kid. They were worth the trek, and sometimes crawl, through fields and patches of poison ivy. Those tiny crimson treasures, along with blackberries and raspberries, were treats from Nature, anticipated and expected.
Since then, all I've found are tart berries, white on the inside. But this June I found sweet, red, ripe strawberries at the pick-your-own,Sussex County Strawberry Farm in northwestern New Jersey. I picked a gallon.
I took my berries to the cabin-like booth to pay and asked the young woman if she knew the variety (I had been eating these sweet things while picking). To my surprise, she immediately said “Earliglow!”
Erin Wolters, 20, has been working at her father’s strawberry farm since third grade. (“I get paid in strawberries. I gotta help the Dad out.”) She’s an expert at identifying varieties by their characteristics such as the long neck and “lips” on the bottom of Earliglow. “It looks like it’s going to give you a kiss,” she says. “And they’re dark red; others are more orangey-red.”
Erin not only identifies ten strawberry varieties, characteristics, growth habits and flavor, she directs strawberry field foot traffic, collects payment, and pulls kids out of the patch when they pull berry plants out of the ground. (Good practice for her upcoming career of teaching elementary school.)
I’m not the only one looking for sweet strawberries. Teresa Peski has been coming here for 15 years for Earliglow; others drive hours from South Jersey and New York just for this midget berry, often no bigger than the tip of a woman’s pinkie, because it is the standard for taste in the industry, according to strawberry farmer John Wolters.
“There are not many farms that grow it anymore because of its small size,” he says. Most people don’t pick them. They would rather pick larger berries that fill their baskets faster, so a lot of the little Earliglow lie rotting on the ground. But John says they’re the closest to wild and one year, Earliglow jam won an award at the NJ State Fair. How lucky did I get!
Farmer John will continue to grow them for those in the know on his 15 acres of solid strawberries. The Farm has been family owned since 1965.
Home gardeners can grow their own and buy them online from Nourse Farms at www.noursefarms.com
John Wolter’s Tips: How to Grow Strawberries
Order your plants early and plant them in May
Keep them for four years.
Plant in raised beds to avoid disease.
Allow space between plants for air movement to prevent mold.
Grey mold is a big problem at bloom time.
John does a liquid foliar feed once in the spring.
Before planting, make sure you have enough calcium for fruit development. (soil test?)
In December, cover the whole berry plants with straw, sudangrass or winter rye.
When forsythia blooms in spring, remove the mulch cover.
** Photos: Mary Jasch
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published June 23, 2015