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Optimum spring weather leads to better strawberry season

POSTED: May 22, 2014 12:02 a.m.

Drew Echols couldn’t have scripted this spring’s weather any better for Jaemor Farm’s strawberry crops.

“I’ve never really seen it like this,” he said. “This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime season.”

As farm manager for Jaemor, at 5340 Cornelia Highway in Alto, Echols knows the best berries come from prime conditions of just the right blend of rain, sun and temperature.

“So far, the weather has been almost perfect,” he said. “We’ve had a little bit of rain, but not enough to damage a lot of berries, and anytime we’re in the 70s (degrees), those berries are loving it.”

Too much heat will cause the quality of the strawberries to suffer.

“If we’ve got five or six days of consecutive 90-degree or higher weather, that starts taking a toll on the berries,” Echols said. “The quality of them just goes down. The berry gets smaller, softer and they ripen up really small.”

Strawberry season in Northeast Georgia is typically six to eight weeks in May and June, he said.

While other areas of the country, like Florida, have already seen the strawberry season come and go, Echols said, our region is right in it.

“It looks like we’re going to be in it at a minimal six weeks this time. I feel like we’ll have at least an eight-, maybe even a nine-week season,” he said.

“I think we’ll have them through at least the 20th of June — maybe even a little bit further than that.”

Because of the milder winters in 2012 and 2013, strawberry crops were coming in earlier. However, the more traditional winter experienced by the area this year resulted in crops that are right on schedule.

Producing the popular berries is labor-intensive. Every strawberry plant has to be planted by hand.

“It’s unfortunate that these things grow on the ground and not on trees, like peaches,” Echols said, laughing.

They also needed protecting during the cold and sometimes harsh conditions of winter, and had to be covered several times, he said.

Demand for strawberries has been steady and high for Jaemor. While once known primarily for its peaches, Echols said Jaemor’s strawberries are steadily gaining ground in customer appeal.

J&J Foods grocery in Gainesville buys any excess of strawberries that may come as a result of overproduction, Echols added.

Starting out with 3« acres in 2009, the farm has now expanded to nearly 13 acres with over 175,000 strawberry plants.

Echols said the amount of strawberries hand-harvested each day ranges from 350 gallons to sometimes 900 to 1,000 gallons.

“It all depends on what fields we’re in and how many berries are actually needed that day,” he said. “There’s been several days over this past month that we’ve picked from 7 in the morning until 7:30 at night — we’ve got about 16 guys picking all day long.”

Jaemor even hosted its first Strawberry Festival last weekend, when the public had the opportunity to pick strawberries from the fields.

“A lot of people showed up and everybody had a good time,” Echols said. “People were picking a lot of really pretty berries, so they were happy to get their hands on them and get out in the fields.

“I love seeing these people toting buckets of strawberries around like a trophy,” he added. “It makes you feel good about it — it makes you feel like it’s worthwhile.”


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