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Strawberry season finally here

By Leanne Fuller lfuller@paducahsun.com

A long, cold winter has led to a late strawberry harvest for some area growers, but two local farmers remain undaunted by the season's late start.

Jim Wurth, co-owner of Wurth Farms in Paducah, said Wurth Farms usually begins picking strawberries between April 20 and April 23, but didn't start picking until May 10 this year.

Wurth explained that strawberry plants are dormant through the winter, and this year cold temperatures persisted so long that the plants waited longer than usual to grow.

"And when it did start to warm up, we didn't have those 70-degree (days) early on to get them woken up and start growing," Wurth added.

Gough's Strawberry U-Pick in Kevil is closed this year, but owner Gene Gough said he's in the midst of planting strawberry plants for next year - an endeavor delayed by the weather.  

Gough said about a month ago, cold conditions prevented the farm from purchasing strawberry plants.

"We get them from up north," Gough explained. "And they weren't able to dig them (up) because the ground was frozen."

However, Gough anticipated that the plants the farm is planting now will be ready by next spring. In fact, his farm currently has strawberries, but they don't quite meet the farmer's standards.

"We've actually got a patch here that was planted last year that's got a lot of big berries in it, but it's just not what I want people to come here and pick in," Gough explained. "It's not looking as good as I want it to, so I just didn't open this year."

The two farmers each pointed to their attention to quality as one reason to buy local produce.

"We don't use pesticides or stuff like that," Gough said. "And what people are looking for nowadays is something that's a little more organically grown."

Wurth said a major factor that affects strawberries' flavor is how ripe they are when picked. He said strawberries sold in large chain grocery stores have to make a three-day trip from California before they reach store shelves, but Wurth Farms can "wait three days later than the boys in California can, because we pick and send it right to the stand."

"That's our No. 1 priority once harvests starts, to make sure our fruit is harvested at full maturity," Wurth said.

Another factor affecting flavor is sunshine. Worth said sunshine is to strawberry plants as gasoline is to cars: "It's got to have sunshine for the plant to run."

"That's one thing you'll notice in extended periods of cloudiness ... (in) the stuff coming out of your garden, the flavor will change a little bit," Wurth explained.

Wurth said since his farm's strawberries have started ripening, they've gotten the sunshine they need.

"The berries are absolutely delicious this time. We picked over 1,000 courts today," he said Thursday.

Wurth and Gough each expressed optimism for their crops and their businesses, despite the problems the winter posed.

Wurth said the cold, long winter probably cut three or four days of production, but he doesn't think it will make a noticeable difference for his farm. While the strawberries came in late, he said the farm has "a good, healthy bunch of crops right now."

Gough noted that in previous years people have brought their families and children from all over Kentucky and Illinois to visit his farm to pick their own strawberries.

"It gives them a little more of a country experience," Gough said. "We let them pick right out of the patch."

Gough said that letting children pick their own strawberries makes for great family memories and cute photos of kids with "red strawberry juice all over their faces and shirts."

Wurth cited steady demand for strawberries as a reason for optimism. 

"Everybody loves strawberries," Wurth said. "It's a happy food."

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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