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Strawberries covered for cold snap

Farmworker Alfred Rios works to cover strawberry plants at Deans Farm Market ahead of an expected cold snap. Drew C. Wilson | Times

Cold temperatures expected to move into the area Wednesday night have prompted the county’s largest strawberry producer to cover his crop.

“We started covering those berries up today anticipating tomorrow night,” James Sharp of Deans Farm Market said Tuesday. “It is supposed to get down to, say, 33 or 34 degrees, and it could frost. So we are pulling those blankets across to prevent that frost from forming on the blooms.”

Deans Farm has about 22 acres of strawberries this year.

“It is labor-intensive,” Sharp said. “The other option is for us to irrigate on the top, and where there might be a couple of nights of cool weather, it’s kind of advantageous for us to use those blankets instead of irrigation.”

Sharp said the row covers trap the heat from the soil.

“It will actually protect the plants in bloom down to about 26 degrees air temperature,” Sharp said. “As it traps heat during the day, that helps it get through those cold temperatures at night.”

Sharp said the crop started blooming several weeks ago, which is several weeks earlier than normal.

“It is going to put us having strawberries around the first part of April, which is up to three weeks earlier than some of our seasons,” he said.

Sharp said that is a good thing, but it means the farm will definitely have to do a good job of frost protection as the cool spells come through.

“We knew we would be dealing with some cool weather coming in,” Sharp said. “Typically most years, we don’t even start frost protecting until after March 15. And typically, we don’t even have any blooms out until about March 15. So they have been blooming for about two weeks already now, so we knew that was a pretty abnormal scenario.”

Chrissy Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said there is a “ very, very low chance” of frost and even less chance of a hard freeze in Wilson County.

“Lately, we have been seeing unseasonably warm temperatures the last few weeks,” Anderson said on Tuesday. “We are kind of flip-flopping now. In the next week or so, we will be seeing below-normal temperatures. So right now, tonight and the next few nights in the Wilson and Wilson County area, we will see temperatures dropping into the low- to mid-30s.”

Anderson said that over the weekend, the area will have a front come through that will warm things up a bit.

“So the low is expected to be in the 40s on Friday night when that rain comes through,” Anderson said. “And then, again that front will move east past our area, so we will have a nice chilly Saturday night with lows again in the low- to mid-30s.”

Anderson said late this weekend into early next week, the area will see low temperatures in the upper 30s to low 40s.

Sharp said the market is currently harvesting strawberries grown in the greenhouse. 

“That harvest is going very, very well,” Sharp said. “We have ample supply of those in the market.”

As for the ones in the field, once these cold snaps have moved through for the year, the crop can mature. 

“Hopefully we will have a good season and it will fire off here soon,” Sharp said.