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Orange County Digest

Countywide : Picking Crews Begin Harvesting Strawberries

February 16, 1986|Gary Jarlson \f7

Break out the shortcake and whipped cream--strawberry days are at hand once again.

Throughout the county, picking crews have begun harvesting the plump red fruit, a task that will continue into early summer.

Although February usually marks the beginning of the strawberry harvest, warmer-than-usual weather this winter allowed growers to get a bit of a jump on the season as crops became ready for picking in January.

"If you go back 10 or 15 years, you find the principal month for strawberries used to be March," said Jim Harnett, the county's chief deputy agricultural commissioner. "But the new varieties that have been developed and the way they are grown have moved it back to February.

"And since we've had lots of warm weather, that brings things along even quicker," he said.

Harnett said that from now until the end of April or early May, the greatest demand for strawberries will be for fresh consumption.

After that, the warm weather makes the berries more tender so they don't have as long a shelf life and don't stand up to the rigors of shipping as well as the earlier harvested ones, according to Harnett. Much of the later harvest goes to processors for use in jams and preserves or fruit drinks.

"But if you get them right on the spot, the strawberries in May or June can the make best eating because they are so tender," Harnett said.

Strawberries, which can be grown profitably on just about any size parcel, were at one time the county's leading agricultural crop. In recent years, however, they have dropped behind cut flowers and ornamental plants. In 1984, the last year for which figures are available, strawberry production totaled $66.1 million.

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