An exceptionally warm winter, a warm spring and few heavy rains in either season all contributed to a very early start of strawberry harvest in North Carolina.

And as April came to an end, there seemed a very real possibility that Tar Heel strawberry growers might enjoy a very long harvest season.

“This could be one of the longest seasons we ever had,” said grower Roger Ball, Raleigh, N.C., on April 24. “Harvest started a good two weeks early, and now I have a lot of green berries and a lot of flowers. So we should have another 30 days or so of harvest.”

Another factor was that frosts were minimal: Ball reported two in Raleigh, two were also reported in Wilson just to the east of Raleigh and four were reported at the Piedmont (N.C.) Research Station in Salisbury, 120 miles to the west.

Andy Myers, crop research operations manager at the Salisbury station, said late in April that strawberries on the station were two to three weeks early, and the last full week of April was probably the peak week. “The fruit set was beginning to slow down. But plants were still setting some blooms, so we will have some to pick in May.”

But unlike Ball, he thought this season might actually wind up being a short one in his area, with perhaps only four weeks of significant harvest. “We would like to have five or six,” he said.

The quality of the Salisbury crop is good, the numbers are good, and the size of the fruit is good, said Myers. “And we didn't have much problem with disease,” he said.

As mentioned before, frosts were minimal. But one came relatively late, on the night of April 23 and 24. “I started to pump water at 1:45 a.m. and cut it off at 7 a.m.,” said Myers. But it appeared there was no damage.    

In one leading North Carolina strawberry county, Wilson County, Extension horticulture agent Billy Little said late in April he wasn't sure if the season would last more weeks than normal. One way or another, he thought yields might fall way off at the end of harvest because so much of the fruit got ripe at one time.

But consumers didn't seem to be complaining. They liked the early availability of strawberries this year, said Little. “They were ready for them when they arrived at market, and they bought heavily.”

The heavy early fruit load all but assures the final yield for the crop in Wilson County should be  extremely good, he said.