Farmer's tinkering leads to 'winter bonus' berries

J. Scott Trubey/Staff
Gurosik's Berry Plantation owner Clyde Gurosik of North Augusta has strawberries growing in his fields. He credits the crop to the use of thermal blankets and global warming. An Extension Service expert says that strawberries ripening in January is very unusual.

NORTH AUGUSTA --- In a rarity for January, a North Augusta farm has strawberries in its fields. But they won't last forever.

 

Tinkering with ways to reduce his water use during the drought, Gurosik's Berry Plantation owner Clyde Gurosik stumbled on a way of growing the berries in the middle of a mild winter. With the use of thermal blankets, he said, six acres of Camarosa strawberry plants have borne plump, red fruit.

"It's more than unusual," Mr. Gurosik said. "It's absolutely the first time it's ever happened in history in this area."

Richmond County Cooperative Extension Agent Sid Mullis said it's certainly a rarity, and perhaps a first.

"It is very unusual for anybody to have strawberries this time of year," he said.

Mr. Gurosik said the local strawberry season lasts from March until about July 4. Most strawberries in supermarkets this time of year are from Florida, he said.

Workers put in about 100,000 plants over 12 acres in October, as they do each year. But instead of using careful watering to protect the plants from cold, much as citrus growers or peach farmers do, the workers covered about half of the acreage with three miles of the fabric.

The thermal blankets kept the plants and soil a few degrees above freezing, even on the coldest nights.

The retired SRS employee has tinkered with berries for 57 years and said he had a feeling the technique might bear fruit. His crews monitored the plants, and when it came time Wednesday to do winter maintenance on them, ripe strawberries appeared.

For now, Mr. Gurosik is allowing his strawberry plants to lapse into their dormant stage to prepare for the spring season.

"This was just a bonus, and it's a fantastic winter bonus," he said.

Reach J. Scott Trubey at (706) 823-3424 or scott.trubey@augustachronicle.com.