In coastal North Carolina the opening of our local produce stands coincides with the first ripe strawberries. It is always a date that I anticipate and record.
In spring of 2007, our first full spring on the Southern Outer Banks, the strawberries were ripe on April 13. In 2008 we actually got strawberries in late March. In 2009 we had berries by the middle of April but in 2010 they were very late and did not show up until April 25. In 2011 things were little earlier when we got our first strawberries on April 18. In 2012 we found ripe berries at Becky’s Berries in Stella on April 20. In 2013 we saw the first berries on April 19.
From my seven years of waiting for the first berries on the coast, it looks like the strawberries ripen in a window that stretches for a little more than three weeks from the very end of March until the beginning of the last week in April. Comparing when strawberries are ripe and ready to pick to previous years gives us a good metric to measure the progress of spring. We had an exceptionally cold winters in coastal North Carolina in 2011 and 2014, however, history shows that we usually recover quickly in March.
Spring usually unfolds rapidly across the south during March. It is a little more subtle here on the coast but we are usually done with frost near the water by the middle of March. However, late frosts like the frost on March 29, 2011, are not out of the question. Spring also brings the chance of stormy weather and even tornadoes on the Crystal Coast. It is a hazard of changing seasons and unstable air. Lots of times the coastal air mass protects us from storms which fall apart when they get close to the coast.
Cool weather and potentially stormy weather is just part of spring but will not slow our few dogwoods and many azaleas for long. Even during a year like 2014 when is the cold is reluctant to head north where it belongs, we have already seen a few trees blooming the last few days of February. There is no doubt our waters are warming from their previously frozen state. The temperature trend will have some dips but it is positive enough to get me to dream a little about our beaches just like I do every year about this time. Some years like 2011 it is warm enough to be close to the water in March. That year I was over exploring the Point by March 6. The warmer weather that made hiking on the Point attractive also made it possible for some earlier than normal the kayaking. Each year is different but in 2011, a second long beach hike in March was not a problem.
Early spring sometimes means the bluebirds are more cooperative in having their photos taken I love the sounds and smells of early spring. Still as we get into April, I start looking forward to that first batch of strawberries. I know some of them will always make it to a homemade strawberry shortcake. Of course a few always get eaten right out of the box as soon as we can wash them.
We are lucky on the coast because our strawberry season often stretches into June, and then the other berries rapidly follow. The berries are just the beginning of our bountiful produce season. My favorite part of the produce season next to strawberries is my own homegrown tomatoes. I aim to have the first ones by late May or the first week of June. My plants are already eager to get into the ground as soon as it warms a little. They have been enjoying a few hours outside on warm February days.
By the time the tomatoes are ripe, beach season is on us, but that is a ways off in the waning days of February. As March rolls around there will be plenty of time to ponder this year’s date for our first opportunity to eat local strawberries. Berry picking places change each year. Recently we have had good luck with a berry farm up in the Stella area but we have gone over into Onslow County when desperate. Check back with my Crystal Coast Life blog during the first part of April to find out what places are growing berries this year. I might even have a contest to see if anyone can beat me on predicting the first Carteret County berries.
Good luck and keep dreaming about how much you will enjoy the first fresh local fruit of the season.
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