Jim Lorraine will soon have strawberries by the bucketload.
A wet spring has given way to warm summery days and his 18 acres of strawberry fields north of Truro are sprouting generously, with harvest time expected in early July, about two weeks later than normal.
“This is probably the biggest crop we’ve ever had on the farm,” said Lorraine, gesturing towards his fields. “It’s unreal, the amount of berries we have on the plants. There’s just berry after berry after berry.”
It is a welcome change from last year’s late spring frost, which damaged strawberries and destroyed other crops, such as blueberries in farms across Colchester County and elsewhere in northern Nova Scotia.
“Last year it was darn tough on us financially, as it was for every farmer,” said Lorraine. “Hopefully we can try to recoup some of these losses.”
Riverbreeze Farm grows three varieties of strawberries, including the Annapolis, Cabot and Valley Sunset types. Each are timed to ripen at different points in the season, staggering the harvest.
The farm allows people to pick their own strawberries under its annual U-pick program. In exchange for a fee, people can pick enough strawberries to fill bowls and buckets.
At this point, Lorraine is confidently predicting a good crop for local strawberry pickers, saying he was hopeful a virus that damaged his crop in 2013-14 will not return.
“We’d have seen signs by now,” he said.
However, Lorraine has noticed a more extreme climate in recent years, with later but hotter summers, almost no spring and a sudden transition from cold to warm weather.
“It’s hard to say what the reason is for climate change,” said Lorraine.
Over at Millen Farms Ltd. in Great Village, co-owner Curtis Millen is also hopeful for a good crop this year, but like Lorraine said his crop will be about two weeks late.
He oversees 160 acres of strawberry fields and was confident a repeat of last year’s frost will not occur, as night-time temperatures are staying above freezing.
Even so, Millen’s strawberries are better-protected than some of his other crops.
“It was devastating for the blueberries but the strawberries had overhead sprinkler panels,” said Millen.
In Cumberland County, Marsha Greeno at Nicnat Farm in Lorneville, was more pessimistic than her Colchester County counterparts.
“Everything is slow this year, it has been too wet and too cold,” Greeno said. “We were seven weeks late getting our grain in, so the strawberries are going to be later than usual.”
Greeno runs a U-pick operation of approximately three acres. She normally opens by the end of June, but suggested it could be the second week of July before she opens.
While frost wasn't an issue this year, she said the late frost that devastated the blueberry crop last year also impacted strawberries. Having a colder and wetter spring has not helped the industry recover.
"A lot of people who thought their crop would’ve been good this year were hit by the frost last year," she said. "We plant every year and we rotate every year. We only keep our strawberries for two years because we don’t spray for weeks. Every third year we plow them under."
With files from Darrell Cole.