Photo Gallery | Family orchard set for strawberry season, despite weather
Rows upon rows of strawberry plants are sprouting in the Mid-South, but soon enough the popcorn-like blooms will transform into a seedy fruit for locals to pick.
Henry Jones of the 73-year-old Jones Orchard in Millington handles the strawberry crop, and expects some berries to be ripe by the end of April. The orchard began with growing and selling peaches, which they still do seven decades later. It was only in 2008 when the orchard started growing strawberries.
"We were open this time last year, but we're a little late this year," said Jones explaining the farm that he opens up to locals for strawberry picking.
Between two locations, Jones manages about 54,000 strawberry plants. One of the locations is near the Agricenter which has 35,000 plants over two acres.
"We have pick you own, or you can buy by the box. We have a concession stands with strawberry smoothies, and strawberry funnel cakes – that's new. It's a fun time, strawberries and kids go together," said Jones.
The Millington strawberry farm where the entire orchard is located is similar, but smaller. At the one-acre farm, locals can also visit a small market with homemade jam jelly.
But the strawberry season is short in Tennessee – he said growing the fruit in the Mid-South has its obstacles because of the summer heat.
"The soil is not as good," said Jones explaining California farms can grow nearly 50,000 pounds more.
"They have the ideal climate to grow strawberries, and do better. We still have a lot of trouble with the cold. There are methods to counteract the cold and sprinkle them. Once it warms up in the summertime, [they] cannot take it more than 93 degrees. That's it. We just have to wait until next year. Most people think it's the cold, but it's the heat," he said.
At the end of the summer, early fall depending on the weather, Jones and his team plants strawberries for the next year.
"Plant early, and there will be too many fruits on a vine – too late, not enough fruit," said Jones describing the delicate process. "Optimal time is the third week in September, [the strawberries] establish themselves and grow a little bit, grow in November and December, grow dormant in January and February, [then] picking April."
But Jones assures the work is all worth it for spring and early summer when locals from around the Mid-South community come to pick the strawberries.
"[They're] good, better than out of the store. Fresher," said Jones who also sells produce at farmers markets. "We’re improving every year, and getting bigger and better at everything."