Albion – a Good Variety for Late Season? And, June Checklist (June 14, 2014)

— Written By Barclay Poling

In this Advisory:

1. Informal discussion of strawberry varieties, including the day-neutral Albion

2. June checklist – what needs “doing” right now?”

Introduction:

Now is the time to place your plant order! But, how will you decide? More Camarosa and less Chandler? What about Albion? In the picture below (Fig. 1) you can see a ‘nice hand’ of Albion berries on a farm in Greensboro, NC – this picture was just taken last week (Wed. June 11). This may be the only variety that can keep going in the kind of heat we’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks. I know the 2014 strawberry season has now ended, and most strawberry growers are relishing the idea of being temporarily “free” of strawberry crop concerns, but be sure to heck out the June task list, as there really are some things that cannot wait until next month (like making your plant order, removing the plastic mulch from last season’s crop (Fig. 2), and plowing down the old strawberry plants.

albionFig. 1. Hey! How can any strawberry variety be producing fruit like this this late (photo of Albion on June 11th, Greensboro, NC). Read more under topic 1 (Discussion on strawberry varieties, including the day-neutral Albion).

plastic offFig. 2. Have you removed the plastic mulch from last season’s crop yet?

1. Discussion about strawberry varieties, including the day-neutral Albion…

Now is the time to place your plant order! But, how will you decide? More Camarosa and less Chandler? Chandler did quite well on flavor in the 2014 season, and it also handled the colder winter and spring conditions quite well. As a rule, Chandler is a better “colder season” variety than Camarosa.

2014-06-14_11-12-56Fig. 2. At this time last June (2013), I posted this diagram on the Strawberry Grower Portal. It showed how growers might have been leaning towards more Camarosa for the 2013-2014 season (one just past). Growers were having to think  about how to “adjust” to having so much Chandler fruit ripen at once – a big problem in May 2013. Chandler had smaller berry size for many U-pick operations in 2013. It did much better in 2014!

The colder conditions associated with the 2014 winter/spring favored Chandler in Central NC, and Camarosa yields seemed lower this past season  from what  growers have been saying to me in this piedmont region (we are hoping to hear more from growers in the Central NC area at their annual Preplant Meeting on Aug. 7th in Burlington).

How much Chandler to plant relative to Camarosa?

When I asked Kenneth Rudd, Greensboro, the other day how he was going to divide his order between Chandler and Camarosa for 2014/2015, he said: “You tell me what kind of winter it’s going to be and I can tell you how much Chandler and Camarosa we’ll plant!”

I’m not sure if anyone can tell Mr. Rudd about the kind of winter he may see in 2014/2015, but one thing we did discuss was “a continuing issue” with small berry size in Chandler. One suggestion to help improve berry size in Chandler might be to experiment with   some Chandler cutoff plants — total yield will be less than with plugs, but berry size from cutoff plants is generally larger.

rudd visit with graceFig. 3. Field visit to Rudd Farm on June 11. In the photo:  Kenneth Rudd (left), Ken Rudd (center), and Grace Tuschak (right). In the far background is their Chandler U-pick field that is now closed for the season. The field where they are standing is Albion – these are Albion plugs set about the same time as Camarosa plugs in the fall.

Albion: It has been really hot lately, and there is no let up in sight! Inside the canopy it will reach 103 next week (yikes). I remember being part of a workshop at an ASHS meeting a number of years ago where everyone felt pretty secure in saying that day-neutrals cannot tolerate these kinds of temperatures. So, what gives? How is it possible for us to be picking such great looking and tasting Albion berries (Fig. 1) when it has been so very warm/hot over the last few weeks? I’m not sure anyone really knows?

What is also interesting about Albion is its fall crop potential! A 2nd crop of Albion will start to be picked in late Sept. in the field shown in Fig. 3, and it may last well into Nov. Sounds like a candidate for a special morning workshop at the fall Southeastern Strawberry Expo in Pinehurst (Nov. 17th. I will be reviewing in our next advisory some practices to rejuvenate Albion after the spring (summer?) crop is over .

heat can it tak

2. June checklist – what “needs doing” right now?

plastic offFig. 4. After plastic is removed, be sure to plow under strawberry plants in June

  • Critique your 2014 season: Week-by-week sales? How you compare with last year? What about your prices?
  • What can you do about opening earlier in 2015?
  • Do you need to adjust your plant order downward to better manage production peaks?
  • Carefully assess the performance of your main strawberry varieties in the 2013-2014 season, and decide by no later than June which varieties you will plant this fall, and how much acreage of each variety?
  • Be careful not to overweight you order with a variety or plant type that had an exceptionally good season in 2014, as ‘weather rules’ and things could play out very differently next year!
  • In a colder growing season, Camarosa may benefit from a 2-3 week fall row cover treatment (before Thanksgiving) to enhance floral development.
  • Chandler has excellent fruit quality and it remains a popular U-pick variety in North Carolina, but it has lost favor in states further in the coastal plains of NC and SC – Camarosa is the definite favorite in these warmer growing areas.
  • Camarosa also has the unique potential to come back for a 2nd cropping season in mid-May (after Mother’s Day), and can often pick into early June.
  • Albion performs well in mid-to-late May and early June, but may not do so very well in the early spring season if conditions are cold and rainy (e.g. 2013)
  • Some growers are addressing the “Chandler peak” issue by including some cut-off plants from California (instead of 100% reliance on plugs).
  • Cutoff Chandlers plants may yield less than plugs, but they will produce larger late season berries than Chandler plugs.
  • Before you make your final plant order, keep in mind that more and more consumers are demanding pre-picked berries, and Camarosa is an excellent variety for pre-pick harvesting and marketing.
  • In preparing your plant order for next season, also spend some time reflecting on the potential water situation for the season ahead – plugs are far more efficient in water utilization than fresh dugs
  • Submit your plant order as soon as possible!
  • What other changes do you need to make for next year? Are you satisfied with the productivity of your current fields? A possible rotation to another site may be beneficial if your overall yields were lower than expected in 2014
  • If planning on raising plugs, organize your plug production setup in late June/early July, and get mist system set up if growing your own tips. Also order soil, trays, and fertilizer.
  • Final tasks for June
    • Destroy plants when harvest ends
    • Clean up stand and coolers.
    • Remove and recycle plastic if not double cropping.
    • Get soil pH tested in June and do liming in late June/early July for the fall crop.
    • Raise pH to 6.0 to 6.2. Incorporate lime when existing beds are broken down.
    • Use overhead irrigate to soften soil as needed and subsoil completely
    • Make a fumigation plan, set a schedule, acquire necessary materials. Be sure to allow appropriate plant-back intervals and an additional cushion in case of bad weather.

Final note – a number of us were able to attend the Mass of Christian Burial for John Vollmer on June 7, 2014 at Saint Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church,  Wake Forest, NC. This was just posted today on the NC Sustainability Center website:
http://ncsustainabilitycenter.org/communities/remembering-john-vollmer-a-champion-for-the-soil

The NCSA is planning a special tribute to ‘Farmer John’ in their July/August newsletter.

Dr. E. Barclay Poling
Professor Emeritus (Strawberry Plasticulture Researcher)
& Interim Exec. Dir., NC Strawberry Assn., Inc.
Department of Horticultural Science
Campus Box 7609, 162A Kilgore Hall
NC State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
“When everyone is thinking the  same…  someone isn’t   thinking ….”  —  George S  Patton