Local strawberries, peaches to come to stands early

Flowers, fruits abound

Farm-fresh strawberries and peaches should come to corner fruit stands a little early this year.

A mid-February thaw broke one of the coldest winters in recollection, triggering a bloom that is 10 days to two weeks ahead of schedule, growers say.

Strawberries will be ready to harvest during the first week of April. Ripe peaches could arrive as soon as May 1.

"It looks to me like a really good crop right now," Clyde Gurosik said, holding a strawberry plant thick with dozens of white blooms. Gurosik's Berry Plantation in North Augusta can produce more than a quarter-million pounds of strawberries a year with a full crop.

A cold winter and early spring don't hurt strawberries, he said. In fact, the cold probably killed some of the insects that threaten plants each year. The early blossoms, however, mean he will have to worry about frost until the first week of April.

"Terrible things could happen. We could have an airborne freeze. That's very hard to protect against," he said.

Strawberries from California and Florida are already on the market. Those are picked green, before the sugars have rolled over into the fruit, Gurosik said.

"Ours are sweeter. Those micronutrients are what give it the essence and aroma of a strawberry," he said. "They can make a berry that's as large and as beautiful as ours. But it'll never taste like ours."

Peach trees have already lost their blooms and are close to shuck-off. That means the purple shuck that surrounds a fuzzy, pea-size peach is ready to split and fall from the fruit.

"These 80 degree days and, really, the warm nights have accelerated it," said J.W. Yonce, who grows Big Smile South Carolina peaches near Johnston in Edgefield County.

Each day, the peaches will grow bigger and bigger, unless a late frost kills some off.

"We face this every year," he said. "Old-timers say you haven't got it made until Easter, and Easter's very late this year."

South Carolina peaches should mature sooner than California's, giving local growers an edge over the nation's biggest producer. South Carolina's peaches already win for flavor, Yonce said.

"Ours are sweet and crisp. They don't have the mealy texture that California peaches do," he said. "Their peaches just don't have the bricks of sugar that we get."

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