The perfect last-minute dessert for a birthday, anniversary, or special holiday.
Editor’s note: This column was originally published in the March issue SWFL Parent & Child magazine.
Strawberry season is still going strong in Southwest Florida, with the plump, ruby-red fruits filling up local farms across the area.
While the rest of the country is still warming up to bowls of hearty soups, we’re basking in juicy, tropical fruits. This time of year, Southwest Florida’s tropical environment lends well to growing strawberries and other produce (tomatoes, cucumbers and grapefruit are also in season this winter and early spring). According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida is ranked second in the production of strawberries in the U.S.
Find them at farmers markets or U-pick farms across the area, and if you have a green thumb, local experts say strawberries are fairly easy to grow yourself in raised beds or containers.
Hundreds of people attended the first ever Farmer Mike’s U-Pick Strawberry Festival held at Farmer Mike’s U-Pick in Bonita Springs on Saturday, January 12, 2013. (Photo: Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News)
And in the kitchen, strawberries can be very versatile. Dip them in melted chocolate or drizzle with balsamic. Toss them in a salad with nuts and blue cheese. Or break it down in a saucepan with barbecue sauce to pour over pork chops.
David Williams, chef at Fresh Harvest Café, shared with us a creative twist on a classic favorite: strawberry and mango nachos made with dried apple chips.
Let’s dig in.
Facts and figures
- According to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, strawberries provide essential nutrients and minerals, including fiber, potassium, vitamin C and powerful antioxidants.
- Strawberries must be picked at full ripeness; they cannot ripen once picked.
- Strawberries are the only fruit that have seeds on the outside — about 200 of them.
- There are approximately 8,000 acres of strawberry fields in Florida
- Strawberries taste best at room temperature.
Florida strawberries can be planted in home gardens beginning in the fall (September to early November) and enjoyed through the winter and spring. Strawberries require between 50 and 80 degrees and less than 14 hours of daylight to flower and produce fruit.
Grow strawberries in a full-sun location with at least eight hours of direct sunlight. You can plant strawberries in rows in raised beds or in planter boxes, pots or other containers. Just make sure your planting spot has good drainage. Before planting, mix in two pounds of a fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium per 10 feet of soil.
Many growers plant strawberries in raised beds with plastic mulch for weed control and to keep soil off the berries.
Use transplants for planting, setting the transplants through slits in the mulch. Make sure you do not cover the crowns of the transplants. This is one of the best defenses for warding off diseases and pests later.
Diseases and insects to look out for:
- Spider mites
- Nematodes and soil-borne diseases
Combat diseases on leaves, flowers or fruits with fungicides for home garden use. Be sure to remove dead and diseased leaves from the plants to reduce infection. Control powdery mildew with sulfur. Make sure temperatures are cooler than 80 degrees before applying sulfur, or it will cause burns on fruit and foliage.
Strawberries are ready to harvest when three-quarters of the berry’s surface is red. Once the fruit is completely red, it rots quickly, so be sure to harvest regularly, about every two to four days.
— University of Florida IFAS Extension, sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu
Pick your own
U-pick farms in Southwest Florida give families a chance to get their hands a little dirty. Head out into the fields and harvest your own strawberries to take home at one of these local farms:
31 Produce, 18672 Street Road 31, Alva, is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Besides picking fresh produce from the fields, visitors can also mine for precious gems and fossils, including shark teeth, amethyst, turquoise, ruby and more. The Cracker Shack Café serves breakfast from 7:30-10:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. each day. The menu includes fried cat fish, burgers, wraps and breakfast skillets. Call 239-313-8213 or visit 31produce.com for more information.
Farmer Mike’s U-Pick, 26031 Morton Ave., Bonita Springs, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Farmer Mike’s spans 40-plus acres with 50-plus crops. Mike Clevenger Sr. and his family manage the farm, which has been a staple in the Bonita community for about 25 years. It closes annually at the end of season, and usually reopens its gates each November. Visitors can pick fresh produce or purchase it from its covered market. The Fresh Harvest Café serves farm-fresh breakfast 9-11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The café is closed Monday. Call 239-498-4576 or visit farmermikesupick.com for more information.
Recipe: Strawberry mango nachos
In this dish, the sweetness of fresh strawberries and juicy mangos combine with the zing of lime and the heat of jalapenos. The result is a tasty treat that bites back just a little. Instead of traditional tortilla chips, use dried apple chips (not the cinnamon or candied kind), to let the salsa flavors shine through. Either dip the chips or pile it all together into nachos.
- 1 cup diced strawberries (only the deep red parts), ¼-inch cubes
- 1 cup peeled and diced mango, ¼-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons finely diced red onion
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Juice of half a lime
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 4 or 5 whole strawberries
- 4 tablespoons simple syrup
- 1-2 bags dried apple chips
In a medium bowl combine strawberries, mango, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Set aside.
Place the whole strawberries and simple syrup into the blender and blend it into a puree.
Pour the strawberry puree mixture over the chopped fruit and mix gently until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Add more salt or lime juice to taste. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Remove from fridge and spoon salsa over the top of dried apple chips.
— David Williams, chef at Fresh Harvest Café
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