The unpredictable winter and spring weather have put strawberries at central Maine farms through everything this season, but the results should be just fine, although a few days late for some area farmers.

“At first we thought (the crop) was going to be really early, then we thought it was going to be late and now it looks like it’s gonna be right on time,” said David Pike, who owns a farm in Farmington. “We’ve had everything this year.”

Strawberries like cool temperatures — in the 60s or 70s — said David Handley, the vegetable and small fruit specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth. Too much heat and the fruit will ripen too quickly and shorten the season for farmers. They also need snow in the winter and some rain, but not too much.

Cooler weather lately may slow things down a little bit, but that’s the worst-case scenario, Handley said.

He said strawberries also require a delicate balance of rain. This season started out very dry, but if too much rain comes the fruit will rot, he said in a phone interview on Monday.

“Right now we’re kinda holding our breath,” Handley said.

Farmers also held their breath over the winter. Handley said strawberries like the snow, because it insulates them from the cold. The 2014-15 winter was good for the strawberries, but this past winter, which had little snow cover, was a concern for some farmers.

Stevenson’s Strawberries in Wayne has felt the effects of the winter and spring’s roller-coaster weather, Todd Stevenson, a managing partner of the farm, said in a phone interview Monday.

He was afraid the strawberries would ripen before school let out in May because of the heat, which would have hurt his U-Pick business. A hailstorm in Wayne last Tuesday didn’t help the fruit.

By the end of May, the heat subsided and now the farm is a little bit behind, he said.

Stevenson said some of his fruit was injured by the cold over the winter, although they were lucky and got a few inches of snow before each cold snap.

“Every inch is like a blanket for them,” he said.

Underwood Strawberry Farm in Benton, like Stevenson, is also running a few days behind. The season started slow because of colder weather, and there wasn’t enough rain for the fruit to size up, owner Chuck Underwood said in a phone interview Monday.

In Farmington, Pike said he prefers the dry weather, because, like many farmers, he uses drip irrigation to water the crop. He said he’d rather have dry weather than wet so he can control the amount of water his crops get than have too much rain.

Pike said Monday he hasn’t lost any of his crop because of severe cold snaps and frost as he has some years. He already picked some strawberries on Saturday, and he said he might be able to start picking daily beginning Wednesday.

While Stevenson said the fruit at the Wayne farm looks nice, it’s still not ripe enough to pick. The farm is tentatively set to open for U-Pick the last week in June, about five days later than last year.

Underwood plans to start picking on Wednesday, only a few days later than normal.

“It’s been brutally windy and brutally cold,” Underwood said, which hurt the strawberry’s ability to ripen over the past couple days.

Still, he said, the strawberries turned out excellent this year.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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