Is there a sweeter sign that summer is coming than the return of North Fork strawberries?
Juicy, ripe and red; these berries typically begin making an appearance on local farm stands starting in late May or early June, but you won’t have to wait quite that long if you visit Catapano Farms in Southold.
The Main Road farm grows its strawberries in temperature-controlled, covered high tunnels (also called cold frames). That means its strawberry plants are fruitful several weeks ahead of the typical harvest for berries grown in the fields. Containers will be available around the same time as the traditional springtime vegetable, asparagus.
“It’s having the taste of June in April,” said owner and third generation farmer Neal Catapano. “With strawberries, it is all about temperature. The cold frames allow us a certain amount of temperature control that make the strawberries think they’re in South Carolina, not the North Fork.”
Catapano Farms got its start on the North Fork as a flower farm in the 1980s, growing mainly annuals and perennials. Neal and his wife Dorothy began to expand and diversify the offerings when they took over the operation in 2008. The couple started by introducing chickens for eggs and poultry, later adding sheep into the mix. In 2011, they planted the first strawberries using sustainable, chemical-free agricultural practices.
The strawberries are grown in compost soil within five high tunnels, which shield the plants from wind chill, allowing them to come into season earlier. In December, the plants are covered with cloth that lets in 90% sunlight. The cloth is removed come March, allowing it to ripen in time for April.
“We did particularly well this year because we had a mild winter,” said Dorothy, who also runs the Greenport Farmers Market. “Our strawberries taste like strawberries are supposed to … They are not the same as the ones you get in the grocery store this time of year.”
The Catapanos expect to yield roughly 5,000 quarts of strawberries before the end of the season around mid-to-late June. The leftover abundance will be made into jam.
The strawberries will be available this weekend at the farm stand located at 47420 Route 25 in Southold. On Saturday and Sunday, there will also be strawberries at Catapano Farms’ vendor station at the Greenport Farmers’ Market located at 414 First Street in Greenport.