When you see those delicious Florida strawberries in your store, there’s a good chance the plant that produced them came from Canada – or the mountains of North Carolina or Northern California. So what’s up with that?
Although strawberries are perennial plants, Florida growers replant annually. It is just too hostile a climate during the summer for plants to survive in Florida. The overwhelming heat, humidity, and fungal diseases during our rainy season makes row crop agriculture impossible from June until October. The citrus fruit seems to like it, but otherwise the only thing that grows well here in summer is a weed.
Therefore an entire industry of strawberry plant nurseries evolved in drier, higher elevated, fairly isolated areas (to protect from diseases). During their temperate summers, they produce the millions of plants required for our fruit-bearing farms. The Florida strawberry industry could not exist without this valuable network of nurseries!
I had the opportunity to visit our Canadian nurseries in September to learn more about their business. I traveled from Nova Scotia down the St. Lawrence River to the northern shores of Lake Ontario and visited 10 strawberry nurseries on the way. The Nova Scotia nurseries are on the shores of the Bay of Fundy where they have 30-foot tides, which come and go in about an hour. You also know you’re in Nova Scotia when the local McDonalds is selling lobster rolls!
I’ll explain more details of the plant propagation business in a separate article, but for this piece I’ll just say that our patented Florida plant varieties are initially cloned in laboratories to ensure identical characteristics of every plant. Strawberries do not grow from seed, however each cloned mother plant produces offshoots called “runners” which then root and grow another genetically identical daughter plant. This carries forward for multiple generations.
The job of the nursery is to plant rows of 3rd generation plants in the spring to create as many daughter plants as possible all summer long. As plants begin to go dormant in the fall, they dig them up and clean the roots (you can’t ship any soil into the U.S. for phytosanitary reasons). Plants are graded by size, uniformly boxed, and then shipped in refrigerated trucks to Florida for replanting.
Now, I’ve really over-simplified a very complex job, because the plants require significant nurturing and care during their growth period to deliver vigorous, disease-free material to our fruiting farms. Our nurseries do a very impressive job and are greatly appreciated!
So “snowbirds” aren’t the only thing that comes from Canada to Florida for the winter.