Tennessee Strawberry Crop a Sweet Surprise After April Freeze

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | 07:00pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – “We survived the freeze of 2007!”

Phyllis Gilliam of Vine Hill Farm in Williamson County wants everybody to know:  some surprises are not so good—like Tennessee’s mid-April freeze—but some surprises can be very sweet, indeed.

Strawberries are doing better than expected across the state after temperatures dropped far below freezing for five nights in a row during April.  The three previous weeks had been unseasonably warm, leaving plants to face the harsh conditions with tender shoots, foliage, blossoms and fruits exposed.  Many crops were indeed devastated, but one crop—  strawberries—seems to have rallied in subsequent weeks much better than earlier anticipated.

“We covered over an acre of strawberries with seed bed covers hoping to save as much as possible,” explained Gilliam. “Still, we lost nearly everything that had bloomed, since the weather had been so warm.” 

But then, said Gilliam, “We got a good rain and the weather warmed up.”  

Dan Strasser, marketing chief with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, says reports also have been coming in from West Tennessee that strawberries are in the field and ready for picking.  The effects of the freeze were not expected to be as crippling in East Tennessee, since pre-freeze temperatures had not been as warm as in other parts of the state, and the strawberry crop is usually later in East Tennessee’s higher, cooler elevations.

“It’s great to be able to send out the word that we do have a strawberry crop this year, despite the challenge,” says Strasser.  “It’s a real testament to the know-how and the determination of these growers that they were able to salvage their plants and get a crop out under those weather conditions.”

“We’re glad we went to the expense and time to save them,” says Gilliam.  “I’m sure there would not be a berry on the place had we not covered them.  The plants look good; the later producing berries are at their peak now and the early berries have come back with another picking ready to go.

Strasser says that, under the circumstances, it’s worth a visit to www.picktnproducts.org, the state department of agriculture Web site, to find local strawberry patches and their contact information.   “We always advise visitors to call before heading out to pick berries, “ says Strasser, “because even in the best years, days and hours of operation will depend on the weather, numbers of pickers and other variables. 

“This year, it’s just even more important to call ahead.”

As for the Gilliams and their Vine Hill patch, “We are open for picking for as long as we have berries to pick.”

For more information about Tennessee farm products, visit www.picktnproducts.org.

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