Introduction To U-Pick Strawberries and Hydroponic U-Pick Farms
Everything You Should Know About U-Pick Strawberries
For some of us in the past, the term "U-pick strawberries" wasn't an idealistic outing to a local farm, but a seasonal task done at home. Never-the-less, today's U-pick strawberry farms are still a wonderful family activity not to be missed. For families who haven't experienced this tradition here are some useful U-Pick pointers:
BEFORE YOU GO:
- Before you go, call around to the local U-Pick strawberry farms -- to not only find the best prices, but also to double check if the farm is open. U-Pick farms typically sell by the pound, so as with anything you want the best price.
- Weather greatly affects strawberry crops (rain and temperatures are a factor). Also inquire, if you need to furnish your own containers and if not, if there is an extra charge for containers you don't furnish.
- Plan to arrive very early in the morning, especially on weekends, as most U-Pick strawberry fields may be cleaned out by noon, in some parts of the country.
- Be prepared: Dress in loose fitting clothing; hats or caps; tie your hair back; pack baby wipes or a wet wash rag in a baggie; apply sunscreen; and insect repellent.
- Bring snacks, plenty of drinking water both for hydration and for washing off any strawberries that you might be tempted to eat on the spot. ALWAYS WASH STRAWBERRIES BEFORE EATING THEM.
- Bring your own strawberry containers if not furnished. Containers should be somewhat shallow, as deep containers may bruise these delicate fruits. Some suggested strawberry containers are plastic storage containers, smaller ice cream tubs, and plastic dishpans.
- Take a cooler to keep the strawberries fresh for the ride home.
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN PRIOR TO GOING ABOUT THE BEST WAY TO PICK STRAWBERRIES:
Novice strawberry pickers should know:
- To only pick fat, fully red strawberries. Size doesn't matter, as small strawberries are usually the best tasting.
- To not pick unripe strawberries, as they will not mature once picked.
- To watch where you put your feet and knees, being careful to not damage the strawberry plants or strawberry fruit in the rows.
- To be careful to not remove the tops of the strawberries.
- To pick every ripe strawberry on each plant. Do not go from one plant to another plant or different row. To not do so is wasteful and hurts the farmer's profit.
- To look under the strawberry plant leaves for hidden strawberries.
- To also remove, any rotted or damaged strawberry fruits and discard to help the keep the rest of the strawberries on that plant from spreading to other strawberries.
- To keep their already picked strawberries out of the sun as much as possible. One technique is to put them either in the shade or in a cooler as you go.
- That picking strawberries in the heat of the day will cause them to spoil and bruise easily.
Actually Picking the Strawberries:
If you've never picked a strawberry off a plant:
• The proper method is, to grasp the stem just above the strawberry fruit between your forefinger and your thumbnail, about a half inch above the fruit. Then, pull with a gentle twisting motion and roll the strawberry into the palm of your hand.
• Keep repeating this motion until you have about four to five strawberries in each hand. Then, GENTLY place the strawberries in your container.
• Don't put too many strawberries in your container.
• Don't pick more strawberries than you can use.
- Do not eat more than a few strawberries. Sampling a few is OK, anything more than that is stealing.
Other Useful Facts About Picked Strawberries:
- Don't clean the strawberries until you are ready to use them or they will spoil.
- One quart of strawberries is about one and one half pounds.
No Fuss Strawberry Pie
No trip to the U-Pick would be complete without at least making an easy no fuss strawberry dessert. Here is a recipe for one of them:
- 1 - 9 inch pie crust (baked) or one pre-made crumb crust
- 1 quart of fresh cleaned and hulled strawberries
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- Crush 1/2 of the strawberries either with a fork, pastry blender, or in a food processor
- Stir in cornstarch, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice
- Cook mixture over medium heat until thick and clear
- Halve rest of strawberries
- Fold into cooled mixture
- Pour into crust
- Chill thoroughly
- Just before serving, whip heavy cream and spread on top.
Hydroponic Strawberry Containers
Hydroponic Strawberries From the Grower's Perspective
The reasons the growers are switching to this system are many, besides the ones mentioned about. One of the factors, is that they can stretch their crops out for a longer season and more profitability.
- The water factor, is of course, the biggest savings to the grower. A farm can use only 500-600 gallons of water a day with hydroponics, compared to 25,000 gallons of water a day per acre the old-fashioned way.
- The space factor is that they can plant twenty full sized plants in the same amount of space that they formerly planted only two strawberry plants.
- Then, when the grower sees the advantage of strawberry plants getting all of their water, and nourishment via the drip line, they're hooked on the savings in cost and effort.
Hydroponic Strawberry Fields
With less and less land available for farming in the U.S. many former U-pick Strawberry operations are moving into hydroponics strawberry fields. They take up less space, and conserve on precious water, and reduce waste of strawberry fruits.
Hydroponics strawberry farms feature all plants grown in a soil-less medium with a nutrient additive. Water emitters release the right amount of water to properly wet the material without runoff. The strawberry plants are in special containers that are designed to boost growth.
Many people like the idea of hydroponics strawberry u-pick operations because they offer the advantages of:
- No bending or kneeling
- No mud or dirt
- They are senior citizen friendly
- You can stand in one place and pick from about 20 plants
- It's easier for children (or their parents)
- No pesticides or herbicides need be used
At a hydroponics strawberry farm, pickers use scissors to snip the fruit from the plants. Growers have found that this too has an advantage. By using scissors, this keeps the u-pickers from accidentally pulling the plants out of their growing media.
Here in Florida, there are several new hydroponics strawberry farms starting up each year as popularity of this type of farming spreads. If in Florida, be sure to visit some of the strawberry farms, especially around Plant City, Florida and Apopka, Florida.