Strawberry fields: Munford farm offers pick-your-own berry patch
by Lisa Davis
ldavis@annistonstar.com
Apr 18, 2012 | 6336 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pat Watts picks ripe strawberries at Watts Farm in Munford. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Pat Watts picks ripe strawberries at Watts Farm in Munford. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
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Warm sun. Bright red berries underneath cool green leaves. Stoop. Pick. Stoop. Pick. Put five in the basket, pop one in the mouth. Ummmm, fresh-picked strawberries.

Such is an afternoon spent at Watts Farm in Munford, where owners Curtis and Pat Watts opened a pick-your-own strawberry patch this spring.

The Watts planted two acres of strawberries — 28,000 plants. It took them three 10-hour days and then some to get them all in the ground.

When the cold snap hit last week, the Watts had to cover up the entire field with a tarp.

Strawberries are temperamental plants. Winter conditions have to be just right. And when it hits 90 degrees, Curtis said, the strawberries will be done for the year.

The Watts’ strawberries are planted on raised rows covered in black plastic — a technique called plasticulture. The good thing about plasticulture is that it cuts down on the amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides needed. The bad thing about plasticulture is that it requires new plants every year.

The Watts’ strawberry patch is not organic, but Curtis said he limits pesticide use as much as possible. The Watts expect to have strawberries available for picking through May, possibly into June, depending on the weather.

The strawberry patch is surrounded by green pasture land. The farm’s six chickens roam around the edges. The chickens stay out of the strawberry patch. They don’t like strawberries. They prefer the grasshoppers in the long grass.

The chickens can be a magnet for the kids who come to pick strawberries.

“People will come out with their kids, and the chickens run out,” Curtis said. Some of the kids, he added, have never seen chickens before.

Curtis and Pat have lived on the farm for a dozen or so years, the same amount of time they’ve been married.

They used to grow row crops, but switched over to produce a few years ago. It started with muscadines. “Curtis was searching around on the Internet, and discovered that we could actually grow and sell muscadines,” Pat said. “He signed up for classes through Auburn.”

They started with 100 muscadine plants. Then Curtis built a commercial kitchen so they could make muscadine jellies and jams.

The year after that, they added blackberry vines.

Then came the vegetables — corn, tomatoes, green beans — all sold fresh or canned at the produce stand next to the house. “People want it fresh,” Curtis said. “We have some folks who stop every day.”

The farm is not a full-time job for either of them. Curtis is a logger. Pat works at Munford High School. The farm “started out as a hobby,” Curtis said. “It’s still a hobby,” added Pat. “It just got bigger.”

Curtis chuckled. “We say every year we’re not adding anything else, but then we do.” He’d like to put in a couple of hundred Christmas trees ... and a petting barn for the kids ... and once the strawberries play out, he might put pumpkins in the strawberry patch.

There are also 50 apple trees in the process of maturing.

And the blackberries should be ripe around June.

“Every year, more and more people come. They want to see who grew the food. At Walmart, you can’t see your farmer,” Curtis said.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too, I guess.”

Strawberry Parfait P ie

1 (4-serving size) box strawberry flavor gelatin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pint vanilla or strawberry ice cream
1 cup crushed strawberries
1 9-inch baked pastry shell or graham cracker crust
Whipped cream and whole berries for garnish

Dissolve gelatin in 1 2/3 cups boiling water. Add lemon juice. Spoon ice cream into gelatin mixture, stirring until melted. Stir in berries. Chill until thickened but not set, about 45 minutes.

Pour gelatin mixture into pie shell and freeze until firm (about 40 minutes). If desired, pie may be frozen. Remove from freezer about 5 minutes before serving.

Place strawberries around edge of pie and garnish with whipped cream.

— McClatchy Tribune News Service
Strawberry Freeze Jam

1 2/3 cups prepared strawberries (see recipe)
2/3 cups granulated sugar or granulated Splenda
2 tablespoons instant pectin (make sure the label says it’s for freezer jam)

To prepare the fruit: Hull the strawberries, then crush them one layer at a time using a potato masher.

In another bowl, stir sugar and pectin together.

Add fruit. Stir for 3 minutes.

Ladle jam into clean freezer jars and let stand 30 minutes.

Makes 2 half pints of jam.

Keeps in fridge up to three weeks, or in freezer for one year.

— Ball Canning
Storing strawberries

So what do you do if you get home from Watts Farm with two heaping baskets of strawberries? Well, if you’re like me, first you eat as many as you possibly can. Then I made four pints of super-easy strawberry freezer jam. For the rest of the berries, I used a hot-water technique to keep them fresh.

Leave the berries whole, with leaves and stems on. Heat a pot of water to 125 degrees, and plunge strawberries into it for 30 seconds. This kills any mold spores on the berries.

I let the berries drain and cool completely, then packed them loosely into glass jars, sealed them tightly and stored them in the refrigerator. I used wide-mouth Mason jars. I tucked a crumpled paper towel in the top of each jar to absorb any moisture from condensation.

The strawberries stayed fresh, plump and sweet for an entire week.

Watts Farm

• 351 Oak Grove, Munford, 256-493-0916
• C Watts Farm on Facebook
• Go south on Highway 21, through Munford, look for the signs on the right.
• 7 a.m.-dark every day
• $10 for a gallon basket of pick-your-own strawberries
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Strawberry fields: Munford farm offers pick-your-own berry patch by Lisa Davis
ldavis@annistonstar.com

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