Caroline Murray/Recorder staff Cashin's Farm hand Olivia Orth weeds a strawberry patch Friday.
Caroline Murray/Recorder staff Sand Flats Orchard and Green House manager Jamie Sammons is shown Friday with her hands full of strawberries just picked from the patch in Fonda.
By CAROLINE MURRAY
There isn't much like a freshly picked strawberry. Juicy, sweet and unmistakably red -- strawberries often surpass other fruit in popularity, as well as availability.
In states such as Florida and California, the day-neutral crop is harvested for several months at a time.
But in New York State, the strawberry season is short -- lasting just two to three weeks in June -- and this year might be an even shorter-lived romance.
"Our season in general, is about five days behind what we would call an average season," Laura McDermott, a berry specialist in Eastern New York, said.
Father's Day weekend usually kicks off the strawberry picking season, but McDermott said the crop might be delayed until the following week.
She attributes the immature harvest to a late spring, but said recent warm weather has brought a tremendous crop for farmers who have already seen a few buds.
That includes Montgomery County's own Sand Flat Orchard and Green House located at Martin Road in Fonda.
Owner Jim Hoffman debated turning his irrigation system on Friday as he plucked a few ripened strawberries from the earth.
Hoffman said his strawberry patch is in good shape, but could use some more rain to rinse off the dirt and help replenish the fruit.
He said maintaining a strawberry crop is difficult, and this year he noticed a later turnaround than usual.
"They are starting to ripen ... it's a little later than normal," Hoffman said. "By the end of the week, there will be a few berries to pick."
The strawberry crop is planted a year ahead of time, Hoffman said. He planted his crops in spring of 2013 for the harvest in June.
His crop is a common June-bearing strawberry.
According to Cornell University berry extension support specialist Cathy Heidenreich, the June-bearing strawberries are the most widely-grown in New York.
Heidenreich said June-bearing strawberries fruit once a year, and have a shorter life expectancy, unlike day-neutral strawberries, which are more durable, but tend to be less powerful in flavorful.
The day-neutrals are grown in California and Florida, and can flower and fruit continuously throughout the season, she said.
"In the early history of strawberries, June-bearing varieties most frequently grew. These days, day-neutrals have broadened the market extremely," she said.
Hoffman's strawberry patch is a quarter-acre wide -- which is modest, compared to John Cashin's farm in Fultonville.
The Cashin's Farm You-Pick operation is roughly three-acres. Located off of Argersinger Road, Cashin and summer helper Olivia Orth were busy Friday removing weeds from his fields.
Cashin said his strawberries will be right on time for Father's Day. He said he is not certain New York's strawberry production is delayed this year, or if for the past few years, the state was graced with exceptionally warm winters.
Either way, Cashin was pleased with his produce so far. Although green and small, Cashin said his strawberry patches will be ready for strawberry enthusiasts next weekend.
Cashin said there is a significant amount of manual labor put into producing the fruit.
"I don't get paid much by the hour," he said.
He sells his strawberries for $2 a pound -- a figure that the Department of Agriculture and Markets suggested last year.
The United States is the world's largest strawberry producer, accounting for more than 30 percent of the world's strawberries.
According to the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Census, in 2012, more than 8,000 farms harvested more than 60,000 acres of strawberries across the United States. California harvested 38,800 acres of land, and in New York, more than 1,000 acres were harvested.
Cashin said in New York, the berry breeding program focuses on flavor and freshness. He said in states such as California, the strawberries are durable, but not robust in flavor.
"In New York, they are flavorful, but don't ship well," Cashin said.
And McDermott agrees. She said California and Florida breed their strawberry crops to ship. They are typically firmer, but have less taste than a local berry.
"I am very biased -- nothing like a New York State strawberry," she said.