Strawberry crop coming in early

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just a few weeks after heavy freezes threatened the strawberry crop for most Virginia growers, the pick-your-own season is in full swing.

Several growers opened for business before the end of April, and berries that survived the cold weather are ripe and ready to go.

“We opened earlier than normal this year; very seldom do we open before the fifth or sixth of May,” said Gloria Motley of Motley’s Strawberry Farm in Pittsylvania County. “The frost would have hurt us if we had not watered, but it appears we were successful in preventing damage. One night we started watering at 8 o’clock and didn’t stop until almost 10 the next morning. Several other mornings we had to water early in the morning until the sun warmed things up.”

Currently, she said, “it’s looking like a good crop. We just need some sunshine to dry out the fields so visitors can pick.”

Tyler Wegmeyer, owner of Wegmeyer Farms in Loudoun County and a Loudoun County Farm Bureau member, said strawberry growers “live and die by the weather at both ends of the spectrum. The thing about strawberries is we have to worry about the weather when we grow them, and then we have to hope for sunny days on the weekends (for pick-your-own customers) to pick them.”

Wegmeyer said he’ll open his first pick-your-own field of the year the weekend of May 7, and he’s seen the potential for good yields. Recent heavy rains have slowed berry growth some and might discourage some pickers, so he’s hoping for drier weather soon.

Meanwhile, the season began two weeks earlier than usual for Westmoreland Berry Farm in Westmoreland County. They opened for business the week of May 1.

“We have more strawberries than we can pick,” said Jen Flory, the farm’s business manager. “The weather had a huge impact. We put row covers on the fruit to protect against frost, but during the day we had higher temperatures so it created a greenhouse effect, and the berries came in sooner.”

While most berry growers use voicemail and their websites to inform customers of crop conditions and picking hours, many also are posting a constant stream of pictures and updates on social media. Consumers in search of local strawberries can use the Virginia Grown farm directory at

Greenhouse industry continues to grow

White’s Nursery & Greenhouses Inc. began as a cut flower farm in the 1940s but has since blossomed into 21 acres of greenhouse production and 5 acres of field production.

Greenhouse Grower magazine ranked the Chesapeake business 79th in its 2015 list of the nation’s top 100 greenhouse operations.

“I never intended to go into this business,” said Norman White, president of White’s. But today he enjoys it so much his license plate reads “MR MUM.”

White’s nursery is typical of many within Virginia’s green industry, because the larger operations are getting larger.

In 2015, greenhouse and nursery products were Virginia’s sixth-largest agricultural commodity based on cash receipts.

The diverse commodity generated $271.9 million in 2012.

“I would say that the industry is growing, large operations are getting larger and that there is a proliferation of small operations primarily servicing local foods,” said Dr. Joyce Latimer, a Virginia Tech horticulture professor and greenhouse crops specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension.