LAURINBURG— With the sudden cold spell, this season’s strawberries would have been at risk if it wasn’t for ice.
When temperatures dip to the 20-degree mark, the popular red fruit dies, according to James Cooley, owner and operator of Cooley’s Strawberries, just outside of Wagram.
This week, Cooley found himself having to save his patch by way of freezing.
Sprinkling a very low rate of water through irrigation can prevent freeze damage from the release of heat during cooling and freezing.
“You just have to continually freeze the plants or else they will die,” Cooley said. “The freezing process produces a speck of heat that keeps the plants warmer than the outside temperature.”
This protection method works for freezing temperatures as low as 21 degrees and has been reported to help protect low growing berry and vine crops. The process, although labor intensive, is a beautiful sight. Thursday morning, those who drove down Airbase Road near Gibson could see the strawberry patch covered in an inch of ice with rainbows appearing over the patch from the sprinklers.
Since last week, Scotland County has experienced temperatures dropping to the mid 20 degree mark at night, which meant Cooley and his workers staying up through the night sprinkling water over his strawberries while watching to make sure his sprinkler heads didn’t get blocked in ice.
“We were out all night knocking off ice that built up on the sprinkler heads,” he said.
Cooley hopes his patch will be open as soon as the ice melts, since some of his berries are already bright red and ready to be picked. With the warm winter and early ripening, he hopes he can get to some of his ripe berries soon. Normally the strawberry patch opens its doors to the public in the first or second week of April.
“This year was abnormal, with the warm winter we had, I could have opened the patch last week,” Cooley said.
Once open, the strawberry farm will stay open until early June.
“I never know an exact date, once it gets too hot I might show up to the patch and the berries are dead or the plants just stop producing.”
Cooley has been growing strawberries for 17 years and his brother operated the three-acre strawberry patch 15 years before him.
“My family has been operating and growing strawberries on this patch for over 30 years,” Cooley said.
The patch offers pre-package strawberries, but also allows the public to come out and pick their own berries.
For information about Cooley’s Strawberries, call 910-369-2630.
Reach Nolan Gilmour at 910-506-3171