strawberries

Red, White & Blueberries

Celebrate our Nation’s Independence with Connecticut Grown Food

Connecticut grown strawberries, cheese, and blueberriesAs you celebrate our nation’s independence this Fourth of July, choose Connecticut Grown foods for your holiday gatherings. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “Stop by your local farm store or farmers’ market as you prepare for the holiday weekend. Your purchase will support a local family business and nothing tastes as good as fresh, local, Connecticut Grown food on your picnic table.”

Berries are in full swing with blueberries and raspberries just starting and strawberries finishing up. Combine all three to create delicious desserts, salads and even breakfast casseroles. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite recipes from triple berry trifles to spinach berry salad on our Connecticut Grown Pinterest page with a “4th of July Treats” board featuring an array of red, white and blue dishes.

This holiday weekend also heralds the availability of sweet corn. While the early spring weather has put sweet corn a few days behind schedule, some farmers started picking this past weekend in anticipation of the upcoming holiday to stock farm stands. Others, like Dave Burnham of Burnham Farms in East Hartford, CT, will have it available this weekend. “Starting Saturday we will have sweet corn available,” he said. Stop by a farm stand or farmers’ market to pick up early butter and sugar sweet corn.

For the grill masters, Connecticut farmers offer a range of meats including chicken, lamb, and beef, as well as, bison and turkey. Whether you prefer wings, steak, burgers or sausage, rest assured there is something for everyone.

Use local honey or maple syrup to make your own marinade and toss together a salad using fresh Connecticut Grown greens as a healthy side. Find a meat, vegetable, honey and maple syrup producer near you at www.ctgrown.gov.

If a clambake is more your style, Connecticut’s coastline is home to an abundance of seafood, including oysters and clams. Shellfishing is an important component of Connecticut’s economy along with recreation and tourism industries. When selecting shellfish look for names such as Copps Island, Stella Mar, Mystics, and Ram Island or places including Fishers Island Sound, Noank, Norwalk and Thimble Islands.

Complete your appetizer trays with an award-winning Connecticut cheese and include ice cream, yogurt or milk from a Connecticut dairy farm family in your desserts.  Don’t forget to visit a Connecticut farm winery or brewery for your favorite adult beverage to enjoy responsibly with friends and family.

From all of us at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, we wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.

Article and photo: Connecticut Department of Agriculture

Connecticut Grown Strawberries Ripe for Picking

Connecticut grown strawberries in cartonsFresh from the field, Connecticut Grown strawberries are now ripening and ready to eat. Strawberries are the first fruit available in Connecticut and signal the arrival of summer for many residents who look forward to visiting one of the state’s pick-your-own farms.

“Visiting a Connecticut strawberry patch to pick your own is a wholesome, family fun activity,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “This type of activity supports local farms and farm families while generating millions of dollars in agritourism for the state’s economy. And, the best part of it all is that you get fresh Connecticut Grown strawberries to eat at home.” 

While it’s early in the season, producers are reporting that picking is quite good. “Despite the amount of record breaking rain in April and early May, the strawberries crop is now experiencing excellent weather for maturing to ripening. The season is off to a great start and it appears that the production will be right in line for a successful strawberry season,” said Nancy Barrett, owner of Scantic Valley Farm in Somers, CT.

It’s a good idea to call ahead, or check the farms website, for daily updates as weather conditions impact availability. Sweet and juicy strawberries are also available now at farmers’ markets and farm stands throughout the state. Find one near you at www.CTGrown.gov/strawberry.

When ripe, strawberries smell wonderful and taste even better. As members of the rose family, this perennial plant is a good source of vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium. They are also loaded with antioxidants.

Strawberries should be plump and firm with a bright red color and natural shine. The color and fragrance of the berry, not size, are the best indicators of flavor. Once you get your strawberries home, wash them and cut the stem away to store in a cool place. If you plan to keep them in the fridge for a few days, wait to clean them until you plan to eat them. Rinsing them speeds up spoiling.

Strawberries can be used to make jams, jellies, shortcake, pie and more. They can also be pickled, especially when picked green or unripe, or frozen to use later in smoothies. Find more recipe ideas to create your own delicious dishes by visiting our Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/.

Make plans to visit a Connecticut strawberry patch this weekend to create lasting memories and delicious, healthy dishes.

Article by Connecticut Department of Agriculture

Strawberry Season in Connecticut!

By Diane Wright Hirsch

Senior Extension Educator, Food Safety

 

strawberries
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the best things about early summer in Connecticut is strawberry season. It just makes no sense to buy California berries at the supermarket in June or July. I once saw a post on a local farm’s Facebook page where a customer shared a picture of two strawberries cut in half….the Connecticut berry was deep, dark red in color and looked to be juicy and fresh. The supermarket berry was pale and dry looking. Seriously, it is not a difficult choice!

In an article on the University of Illinois Extension web site, Drusilla Banks and Ron Wolford gathered some facts on the history and lore of the strawberry. Some thoughts to ponder when working on your strawberry patch—or filling your bucket at the local pick-your-own:

  • “Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries. She used 22 pounds per basin, needless to say, she did not bathe daily.
  • The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, Colonists developed their own version of the recipe and strawberry shortcake was created.
  • The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shapes and red color.”                    urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries

Picking your own berries (PYO)

Strawberries are ready to harvest when they are a bright shiny red color. If they are greenish or whitish, leave them on the vine. They will not ripen further after harvesting. Very dark berries are likely to be overripe—you will need to eat them on the day you pick.

Harvest safely

First, don’t pick if you are sick. Stay home and let someone else do the picking. Before heading out to pick the berries, wash your hands. If you go to a PYO operation, ask if they have handwashing facilities. In a pinch, can you use a hand sanitizer? Hand sanitizer should not be a substitute for washing hands with soap and water. Dirty, wet or sweaty hands are not much safer when rubbed together with a glob of hand sanitizer. In addition, hand sanitizers are not effective against all types of microorganisms: especially viruses such as the Norovirus. So, whenever possible, wash your hands the old-fashioned way.

Pick berries that are bright red and leave those that are overripe, mushy or moldy. If you are planning to make jam or jelly, don’t think that you can get by with shoddy, overripe berries—you might end up with shoddy, overly-soft jam:  you will never end up with a product that is of better quality than the fruits or vegetables that you started out with.

Refrigerate the berries as soon as you can after picking. This will help with shelf life. But, do not wash the berries first. If washed, the berries are more likely to get moldy in your refrigerator.  Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. Always wash them before eating. To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water—they will soak up the water, lose color, flavor and vitamin C.

Freezing Strawberries

For the best results, pick fully ripe, firm berries with a deep red color. Throw out any immature or unripe berries or those with rot, soft spots or mold. Wash and remove caps.

You may choose to freeze your berries with or without sugar. While many choose sugar-free because of perceived health benefits, keep in mind that for high quality results, packing in sugar is your best choice. Unsweetened packs generally yield a product that does not have the plump texture and good color of those packed with sugar. The fruits freeze harder and take longer to thaw. While some fruits are acceptable when packed without sugar, strawberries are best packed with sugar. The exception is if you are freezing berries to make into jam at a later date (and of course, if you must use sugar free products as part of a health regimen).

Unsweetened Dry Pack (for making jam later)

Simply pack the washed and drained fruit into a container, seal and freeze. A tray pack is an alternative that may make the fruit easier to remove from the container. Spread a single layer of fruit on shallow trays and freeze. When frozen, promptly package and return to the freezer. Be sure to package the fruit as soon as it is frozen, to prevent freezer burn. Use bags or hard plastic containers made for use in the freezer.

Whole Berries Sugar Pack

Add three-fourths of a cup of sugar to one quart (one and one-third pounds) of strawberries and mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Put into plastic freezer bags or freezer container.

Sliced or Crushed– Prepare for packing as for whole strawberries; then slice or crush partially or completely. To one quart (one and one-third pounds), berries add three-fourths of a cup of sugar; mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Pack into freezer bags or hard plastic freezer containers.

If you want to make strawberry jam, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  You will find a tested recipe for strawberry jam as well as many other canning recipes.  Extension now recommends that all jams and jellies be processed in a water bath canner.  This means that you must use glass jars with two-piece canning lids. The five-minute process will minimize the chance that molds and yeasts will spoil your jam. Shelf life will improve and you won’t waste all your hard work and precious berries.

For more information about safe handling of fresh-picked strawberries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.eduor the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning and freezing information at www.uga.edu/nchfp.

The Season for Strawberries

Photo and article by Susan Pelton for UConn Extension

 

strawberries
Photo: Susan Pelton

We moved into our home in December of 1996 and by June of 1997 I had broken through the sod, tilled the soil, fenced in an area, and planted a new garden. One of the first additions to that garden was a strawberry bed. Even though it took up ¼ of the space and only produced fruit during June I was always happy to have it there. Over the ensuing years the plants have, at various times, bloomed, bore fruit, sent out runners for daughter plants, and died. Three years ago I renovated the plants and moved them to a different area within the garden. This year they started to bloom around Mother’s Day and there were already a few signs of small green berries within a week. The weather during that time was unseasonably warm with a few days of temperatures close to 90°.

By May 15th the rainfall for Connecticut was already 1.74” below normal. Like most fruiting plants strawberries require 1” of water per week during fruit set and the growing period. Most years this is not an issue but this season has required many trips to the slowly depleting rain barrel. At least it has been warm. Some years a soggy, cold spring has led to a very small harvest. Also, temperatures that dip into the 25-35° range require covering the plants as they are susceptible to frost damage. If you have pushed their winter mulch to the side you can just bring it back over the plants should there be a frost warning.

There are three types of strawberries that are generally available for the home gardener: June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearing, as their name suggest, produce fruit during a 2-3 week period in June although there are early, mid and late season varieties. Everbearing strawberries have three periods of flower and fruit production during spring, summer and fall.  For better productivity and fruit quality choose day neutral over everbearing. Day neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season with few runners. If your space is limited, the soil quality is poor, or you like to plant in containers or beds, then day neutral is a good choice. Day neutral strawberries are often grown as annuals and replanted each spring. If you choose to allow the beds to carry over to the next year you may see that the yields will decline.

Strawberries prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They need full sun. Do not plant strawberries in an area that has had solanaceous crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or peppers within the previous four years as non-host specific Verticillium root rot fungus also affects strawberries. Another soil-borne fungus that affects strawberries is Phytophthora fragariae (Red stele). Phytophthora fragariae is a very persistent fungus and can survive for up to 17 years once it has become established, even if no strawberries are grown during that time. Even varieties that are listed as resistant may succumb if planted in an area that has had a prior infection. Black root rot is another disease brought on by fungi, nematodes and environmental factors. Avoiding areas that become waterlogged is very important when growing strawberries.

After you have enjoyed the fruit from June bearing varieties the plants should be renovated. This is the part that makes me cringe. Mow the strawberry plants to a height of 1 ½” above the crowns! It seems to go against every gardening intuition that I possess. Then fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. You may also need to narrow the plant rows to 10-12” and thin out plants that do not look healthy. Spread 1/2” of soil over all but do not bury the crowns. Be sure to continue watering through the fall.

Strawberries may require a bit of work but they are definitely worth the effort. Biting into a fresh-picked, still warm from the sun, strawberry is a bit of heaven. And then ladling lightly sugared berries over a biscuit with whipped cream? Yum. Or baking them into a crisp accompanied by rhubarb also fresh from the garden? So good. And of course, it doesn’t get any better than cooking them into preserves and hot water bath canning them so that they can be enjoyed all winter long. As of this week I had one 12 oz. jar left from last year’s batch. Now that I can see this year’s crop coming I popped the seal, put a nice spoonful on some cottage cheese and remembered all the reasons that I have strawberries in the garden.

Controlled Environment Agriculture

CONNECTICUT FEDERALLY FUNDED STARTUP AIMS TO BRING OUT-OF-SEASON FARMING TO FINANCIALLY STRESSED NEW ENGLAND GROWERS; Connecticut Tech Business To Introduce Year-Round Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) To Area Strawberry Farmers; Recent CBS’ 60 MINUTES Segment Highlights California Drought Impact on Local Food Availability

December 15, 2014 — As the outdoor farming season in New England is shut down for the winter, Connecticut-based technology company, Agrivolution LLC, is about to open up a research project on how farmers can extend the growing season into the winter months using special indoor farming techniques popular in Europe and Asia.

If successful, the research could create a new revenue source for farmers in harsh weather states who go mostly dormant in the winter months. It would also mean more farm jobs, greater levels of locally grown produce for consumers, and protection against the impacts of drought conditions in California where most of the produce available in the northeast is grown.

“Experience outside the U.S. shows it is possible with controlled environment agriculture (CEA) to grow pesticide-free fruits and vegetables year-round,” said Richard Fu, Agrivolution president who recently returned from Japan where he toured indoor CEA facilities and met with operators. “If we can prove that controlled environment agriculture is economically viable for farmers here in the northeast it could have significant implications for the farming industry. We want to help northeast farmers and others claim a larger market share during colder weather months when upwards of 90-percent of fruits and vegetables are trucked in from warm weather states or flown in from outside the U.S.”

CEA refers to the production of plants in protected indoor structures such as a greenhouse or a warehouse that maximizes the productivity while being benign to the environment. Agrivolution uses an irrigation technique called hydroponics which involves growing vegetable plants indoors with their roots suspended directly in nutrient-rich water rather than soil.

A USDA funded Specialty Crop Block Grant offered through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture was awarded to Agrivolution to investigate farming methods that could be used to help farmers produce out-of-season strawberries, the fifth most consumed fresh fruit in the United States. It’s the first time the state has funded indoor, or, CEA farming research.

State data shows that the number of strawberry growers in Connecticut is on the decline. Several berry growers still operating though have already expressed interest in partnering with controlled environment agriculture system provider Agrivolution.

Sandra J. Rose, manager of Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury — one of the largest berry farms in southern New England — is one of the farmers interested in the Agrivolution pilot.

“Strawberries are in high demand all year long,” Rose said. “Our normal growing year produces great fruit here in Connecticut. The season is however, very short and we are picked out in about 3 weeks. Year-round growing will help farmers expand their operations, create jobs, and help compete for shelf-space in grocery stores who would otherwise support us but import berries during the colder months instead because our harvest is depleted.”

The majority of the estimated 437 million pounds of strawberries consumed annually in the northeast region alone are transported across the U.S. in a 5-7 day period before reaching the hands of local consumers. When the domestic products from local growers are seasonally unavailable, strawberries are flown in from Mexico and South America in order to ensure constant availability. Because of its fragile nature (i.e., bruising) and short shelf life, strawberry is an ideal crop for local hydroponic production.

Drought conditions in California, now in its 4th year, have forced farmers to cut back on the acreage dedicated to farming according to news reports. These production shortages have triggered price hikes in regions of North America that have become dependent on California-grown crops. CBS’ 60 MINUTES broadcasted a segment (aired on November 16, 2014) “Depleting the water” that focused on drought conditions in California and groundwater depletion in the aquifers there that supply irrigation water to grow 25-percent of America’s food.

“Relying on California growers to produce and deliver a significant amount of the food we consume in the northeast has consequences,” says Agrivolution’s Fu. “If the California drought continues to be a problem we can expect product shortages and price volatility. But growing more locally produced food ensures that there is volume, quality and price protection we can count on.”

Indoor farming is common in other parts of the world where the percentages of locally grown foods are much higher than they are in Connecticut and other regions of the U.S. While many parts of the world’s strawberry production have transitioned to CEA for years, its adoption in the U.S. has been slow. Approximately 90 percent of strawberries in Japan are grown in greenhouses whereas nearly 100 percent of U.S. strawberries are grown in open fields.

With uncertainty looming with the ongoing extreme drought in California, it is an opportunity for the growers in the northeast to recapture the local market share using the CEA technique Fu said. He considers CEA technology to be a necessary component in the nation’s agricultural base to build a more resilient food supply network.

“We’re under tremendous pressure to keep our workers on the job and our businesses in the black,” said Joe Geremia of Geremia Greenhouse in Wallingford who has investigated the Agrivolution technology. “Indoor farming is something that can change the region’s agriculture landscape. It will help the whole economy.”

Agrivolution, which began as a company in the Technology Incubated Program at the University of Connecticut, will begin examining the quality of the strawberries grown indoors by local farms participating in the research project in early 2015. The company will then determine how the CEA production is viable for larger facilities in the other regions in the U.S.

Agrivolution partnered with Mary Concklin from the University of Connecticut (UConn) Extension on this project to help increase awareness with local growers about the business opportunities presented by indoor farming. UConn Extension supports the Connecticut greenhouse industry with information and educational programming on sustainable production methods.

Agrivolution was named to the CT Innovation Summit’s “Tech Companies to Watch” list in 2012 and 2013.

Funding has been provided by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, awarded and administered by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. 

 

Time to Pick the Strawberries (Finally!)

By Diane Wright Hirsch, UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety

Photo: North Carolina Extension

 

NC StrawberriesOne of the best things about June in Connecticut is strawberry season. And we have been waiting a long time for strawberry season this year in Connecticut! Most farmers will tell you that the cold spring has delayed picking as much as 2-3 weeks. Even now, the supply is still gearing up. Get to your farmers’ market early in the day if you want to score a box or two. And be sure to check with your favorite pick-your-own (PYO) operation. Some are just starting up this week.

 

In an article on the University of Illinois Extension web site, Drusilla Banks and Ron Wolford gathered some facts on the history and lore of the strawberry (http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries/history.html).  Some thoughts to ponder when working on your strawberry patch—or filling your bucket at the local pick-your-own:

  • “Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries. She used 22 pounds per basin, needless to say, she did not bathe daily.
  • The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the Colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, Colonists developed their own version of the recipe and Strawberry Shortcake was created.
  • The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shapes and red color.
  • Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII had a strawberry shaped birthmark on her neck, which some claimed proved she was a witch.”

 

Strawberries are ready to harvest when they are a bright shiny red color. If they are greenish or whitish, leave them on the vine.  They will not ripen further after harvesting. It would be a shame to work hard at growing and picking these jewel-like fruits only to have them rot in the fridge or shrivel on the counter. So be sure to treat them well.

 

Harvest safely

If you are lucky enough to have a strawberry patch in your back yard, or if you plan to visit your local PYO, start by washing your hands, then head out to pick the strawberries.  If the PYO operation does not have hand-washing facilities, you can use hand sanitizer as an alternative.

 

Pick berries that are bright red and leave the overripe, mushy or those that are obviously headed in the wrong direction.  If you are planning to make jam or jelly, don’t think that you can get by with shoddy, overripe berries—you might end up with shoddy, over-mushy jam. A good rule to follow when it comes to preserving food at home—whether it is canned tomatoes, frozen green beans or strawberry jam: you will never end up with a product that is of better quality than the produce (tomatoes, green beans, strawberries) that you started out with.

 

Refrigerate the berries as soon as you can after picking.  This will help with shelf life. Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. But, do not wash the berries before refrigerating them. If washed, the berries are more likely to get moldy in your refrigerator.  Always wash them before eating, though. To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water—they will lose color, flavor and vitamin C.

 

For more information about safe handling of fresh-picked strawberries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.ed

or the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning and freezing information at www.uga.edu/nchfp.

Proper Planting of Strawberries

Good afternoon,
Proper planting of strawberries should include making sure the root system is not curled or ‘J’ planted. A study conducted in California showed an 18.5% reduction in fresh fruit yield with ‘J’ planted strawberries versus those planted correctly. In the diagram (from OSU Extension), plant A is correct with the crown at the soil line. Plant D is a ‘J’ planted or root curled plant. If the root system is too long, you can trim it slightly, but better yet, dig the holes deeper.
image001
Nutrients are important inplants for growth and physiological processes. When one nutrient becomes excessive, it can impact the availability of one or more other nutrients to the plant. With that in mind, remember that the recommended amounts on a soil test are based on research. If a little will do the job, excess amounts can be detrimental. For example, the macro-nutrients potassium, calcium and magnesium are cations and are needed in large quantities by berry plants. The uptake of one of those three is negatively affected by a high level of one or both of the others. If the soil magnesium level is too high (based on a soil test), potassium may not be taken up in the amount needed and the plant will appear to be deficient in potassium. Based on visual symptoms and/or a foliar analysis, you may decide to apply additional potassium to the soil to try to alleviate the deficiency, when the problem isn’t that there is a lack of potassium in the soil, it is that there is too much magnesium. A balance in the soil of these cations (potassium, magnesium and calcium) is needed to avoid one element from making the other appear deficient. Soil tests are one tool to use to make sure the plants have available what is needed while the foliar/tissue analysis is important to indicate what the plant is taking up.
 
UConn’s IPM website has been under construction for awhile and is now up and running. You will find factsheets, pest messages, news, upcoming events and more. The URL is http://ipm.uconn.edu.
 
If you carried over liquid pesticides (organic and non-organic) from last year, it is wise to check their efficacy BEFORE you need to use them. Any pesticides that may have frozen should be shaken (or rolled if the container is too heavy to shake) to re-mix the ingredients. It would be smart to wear PPE when doing this in case of a leak. Then use this very simple test: mix a couple of tablespoons in a quart jar filled 2/3 to 3/4 full of water. Shake thoroughly and allow the jar to sit for about an hour. If the material has separated out in the jar (distinct layers formed) it has probably lost some of its efficacy. If it remains milky, it is OK.
 
Have a great day.
Mary
 
Mary Concklin
Extension Educator – Fruit Production & IPM
Telephone: (860) 486-6449
email: mary.concklin@uconn.edu