Strawberry harvest is a fast-paced activity. One minute a field is void of human activity. The next minute people almost appear from nowhere to dash across the field and pluck ripe berries for market.
In Santa Maria, Calif., hand crews are almost constantly busy with labor-intensive activity.
In early May at Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria, dozens of farm workers picked and packed strawberries into plastic containers and cardboard flats. The work is tedious and quick as each farm worker is paid by how much fruit they pick and pack.
ID cards on each worker have a code that is scanned with a hand device when they return from the field with another container of strawberries.
Picking generally starts in February and peaks in May, according to University of California strawberry expert Surendra Dara. It depends on the temperatures, he cautions, as strawberry production can be fickle.
Strawberries are transplanted into field beds after germination, Dara says. Transplanting typically happens in November.
Strawberries are planted through plastic sheeting that runs the length of the beds. This keeps the berries off the soil to help prevent against rot and pathogens. It’s also a tool to hold the raised beds in place.
Micro irrigation practices are employed to efficiently use water.
California produces over 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries on about 38,000 acres of land. The state’s strawberry crop is valued at over $2 billion.