North Louisiana awaits spring’sfirst strawberries

MONROE — By mid-March, north Louisiana’s strawberry growers will be ready to share their product just in time for Easter.

Sal Petitto, who has been producing strawberries on his nine-acre farm since 1980, recently leaned over one of his tender, green strawberry plants and pulled back a leaf to reveal a white blossom.

“In 20 days, that’s going to be a berry,” Petitto said.

Petitto’s famous berries, which release a sweet, chin-covering nectar when bitten, are the first fruits of spring in northeastern Louisiana. If all goes well, the plants will begin producing red, ripe berries as soon as the middle of March. They must be ready by Easter, which this year is March 31 and when they are in the most demand.

“They’re coming along,” said Petitto, whose family farmed strawberries in southern Louisiana when he was a boy. “Now all we need is a little more sunshine.”

The berries are currently covered by a white cloth that the sun can penetrate but frost can’t. It acts as a blanket to protect the plants from freezes and will be removed once nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s.

“The covering brings the berries in a little bit earlier,” Petitto said. “We started using that a couple of years ago instead of running sprinklers during freezes.”

Southern Louisiana growers have been picking strawberries since Thanksgiving. They can plant earlier because of warmer weather.

Petitto said southern farmers must begin producing earlier to meet contract obligations with grocery chains. Peak yields in Louisiana are about 2,200 flats per acre.

But Petitto sells all of his strawberries locally, mostly from the shed on his Finks-Hideaway Road farm.

Petitto said north Louisiana strawberries will be available through most of May.

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