BARTOW, Fla. — Clear Springs Packing LLC has completed its first year of shipping strawberries, is beginning to hit volume on grape tomatoes and plans to begin its first year of watermelon harvest in early May.

Clear Springs adds strawberries, watermelon and grape tomatoes

Doug Ohlemeier

Kyle Gashaw, salesman and executive director of commodity development for Clear Springs Packing LLC, Bartow, Fla., views some early variety blueberries expected to begin harvesting in late April. Clear Springs has expanded its offerings by growing and shipping strawberries, watermelon and grape tomatoes.

The blueberry grower-shipper has ventured into strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon to broaden its product offerings, said Kyle Gashaw, salesman and executive director of commodity development.

“To survive nowadays, you have to be more diversified,” he said. “That’s what we are looking at, adding some more diversity for our customers.”

Clear Springs finished picking its first crop of strawberries in late March.

Though the 300 acres produced high-quality berries without any rejected shipments, Gashaw said yields suffered from the extreme cold, rain and cloudiness that struck the central Florida growing region in January and February.

“This was a bad year to enter the strawberry deal,” he said. “We could never build our momentum and get our yields up. We plan to try a few different things next season.”

Gashaw said he expects to increase shipments of grape tomatoes to promotable volume by late April if the weather remains warm. Clear Springs began harvesting its grape tomatoes in November from fields in Arcadia and Wauchula.

On watermelon, Clear Springs plans to start harvesting by May 10, depending on how warm growing season weather continues, Gashaw said. Clear Springs planted 300 acres this season and may increase production next season if the grower-shipper experiences a favorable year, he said.

Blueberry quality looks strong, Gashaw said, and Clear Springs plans to begin harvest the week of April 12.

Its fifth year in the blueberry deal, Clear Springs hopes to increase from 300 acres by another 150 acres next season, he said. The company also sells for growers on another 300 acres.

Gashaw said he expects this season’s Florida blueberry deal to run through the end of May if not a little longer.

Clear Springs expects to increase volumes this year of fruit and tomatoes shipped from its packing operation south of Winter Haven.  Last year, Clear Springs packed more than 1.5 million pounds.