After weeks of sitting on their hands and wondering if the land would ever dry out enough, farmers are finally kicking their spring planting prep into high gear.

Some crops may be delayed because of all the rain. But because they are planted in the fall, one spring favorite might actually have early picking.

"The bulk of the strawberries will be on time, somewhere around the end of April to the first of May," said Virginia Beach extension agent Roy Flanagan. "But some farmers have been doing row cover management to push the crops ahead."

A relatively mild winter, plus protection from that plastic covering when it did get below freezing, has many strawberry fields already in bloom.

Some are on Mike Cullipher's farm near the Creeds section of Virginia Beach.

"We like to take about a third to 40 percent of ours and push them along so we can have them ready by Easter," said Cullipher. "Then the rest of them will be ready at the usual time and we have a longer picking season."

On Wednesday, Cullipher was busy planting new peach trees ahead of the night's rain. A winter that was warmer overall than the three previous had his peach trees and blueberries already in bloom.

But because of 8.46 inches of rain — 2.15 so far this month — local farmers have had to hold off on weed killing and fertilizing spring wheat. Pruning fruit trees also suffered some delays.

"We had that week where it didn't rain much and it quickly became manageable," said Flanagan, whose family owns a farm in southern Virginia Beach. "We've gone from idle to wide open.

"It's definitely been a zero-to-60 thing this year."

Farmers now are waiting for the ground to warm enough to start planting. Flanagan expects most planting to be on time because farmers are working extra hours to make up for lost days in the fields.

"We're behind on a lot of preparation like herbicides and fertilizing," said Steve Berryman of College Run Farms in Surry. "And if we keep getting rain like this we're liable to see some disease in the strawberries.

"We're hoping to get sweet corn in the ground next week, but it's going to have to dry up some."

Billy Wood has managed to get beets and spring onions in the ground and has his fields tilled for other crops.

"Just can't get back on the fields with all this rain," said the owner of Wood's Orchards in Hampton. "And to be honest, I really don't see the need in planting much until around April 15. That time frame seems to work well.

"And it doesn't seem to matter when you plant tomatoes, 'cause you can't get a tomato before July 4 anyway."

One crop that has suffered is May peas.

"There is such a small window of time to plant them and it was just too wet," Flanagan said. "We have five normal growers, small acreage growers, who plant them, and now we only have two. Produce stands will have to get their supply from North Carolina."

Many farmers are getting a head start by growing plants in greenhouses.

"Yep, it's going to be a transplant thing instead of seed planting for some things like tomatoes," Cullipher said. "We can't do that with sweet corn, so I wish it would hurry and warm up so we can plant.

"We all modify and change how we do things this time of year because it seems like winters have been getting wetter and colder. This one's a little different, so we have to adapt."

But there's one thing you seemingly won't have to adapt for — the arrival of those delicious red berries that help make spring so special.

Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844, lee.tolliver@pilotonline.com

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