Frost Watch 2011 has begun! Farmer Jones spent last night in our strawberry fields keeping an eye on the plants during the chilly early morning hours. During the month of May strawberry plants grow the delicate white blossoms that will soon develop into juicy red strawberries (after pollination, of course!). While warm daytime temperatures help speed this growth process, many nights still dip below freezing temperatures at this time of spring and bring the threat of frost. Strawberry flowers that have been damaged by frost will turn black in the center, and the flower will never be able to develop into a berry. So how do we protect our thousands of strawberry plants on these cold spring nights? We freeze them of course!
While it may seem strange, freezing the strawberry flowers actually protects them from frost damage. As water freezes it releases heat, which actually protects plants nestled under the ice. On as many as a dozen nights in May, our farmers keep careful watch over the strawberries as temperatures approach 32 degrees Farhenheit. When the temperature guages reach this magic number, the farmers turn on giant irrigation pumps and the fields are misted with nearly 1,000 gallons of water per minute. As the water freezes, it releases heat – over 60 million BTU’s every hour! (A BTU is a British Thermal Unit, which equals the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit). That’s a lot of heat being produced in those chilly fields!
We’ll keep the irrigation system on until the fields get warm enough to start melting the ice. Then Farmer Jones will take a quick nap before heading out in the fields to plant more crops. No one ever said a farmer’s life was easy!