Odd weather threatens berries

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, March 9, 2017

A popular Suffolk spot for strawberry picking has made it through an unusual weather season.

Lilley Farms grows strawberries at Bennetts Pasture Road in Suffolk and Tyre Neck Road in Chesapeake. Area residents have enjoyed the family farm’s sweet Chandler strawberries for nearly a decade and are anxious to start picking.

“I get calls in January to find out when they can come and pick strawberries,” strawberry patch manager Carolyn Lilley said.

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The strawberries are expected to be ready at the end of April. Crowds usually begin arriving around Mother’s Day when the weather is fine and families are craving.

But Lilley said everything depends on the weather, and some years are better than others.

“It’s a Mother Nature business,” she said.

An unusually warm season can cause strawberries to bloom early. Cold weather on the heels of that can cause the blossoms to freeze and then thaw further into spring.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Rusnak said last month was the second-warmest February on record. The 0.66 inches of rainfall during that month was two-and-a-half inches below February averages.

“It’s not supposed to be like this,” Lilley said. “It’s warm too early. That’s a real worry for people growing fruit around here.”

She said the plants look good, despite the unpredictable weather, but people should still call ahead to avoid disappointment.

“Anytime you’re dealing with produce, always call first,” she said. “You never know.”

Her strawberry field will be swarmed by folks when the weather permits this spring. People will make strawberry shortcakes with their fresh ingredients. Some will celebrate their birthdays with a day at the field. Any strawberries left unpicked will be gleaned and frozen by staff or made into syrup and jelly.

Lilley enjoys the sight of all the people enjoying her family’s work.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see families come out here,” she said. “They’re going go home and eat strawberries ’til they can’t eat anymore.”