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Planting And Caring For Strawberries

Strawberries are a family favorite for many and can be easily grown and cared for. This year I planted my first patch since buying my home two years ago. Years ago I cared for strawberry plants that a friend had received from the local field growers. They grew well and produced large, sweet berries about six months of the year. So after moving to my new home, I naturally wanted to have strawberries in my garden once again.

Types of Berries

There are about 600 varieties of strawberries today. They came from five or six original wild species and are members of the rose family.  Generally speaking, the larger the berry, the more water content they have. The smaller the berry, the more intense is their flavor. Below are the most common types.

  • Everbearing – Large, bright scarlet berries with firm flesh, plenty of juice and a sweet, delightful flavor. This variety produces three periods of flowers and fruit during spring, summer, and fall. They do not produce many runners.
  • June bearing – Medium to large berries that produce crop during a two to three week period in spring. This variety produces flowers, fruit, and runners. June bearing plants have early, mid, and late-bearing varieties.
  • Day neutral – This variety produces fruit throughout the growing season, but produce few runners.
  • Fragaria Virginiana (wild strawberry) – Small, juicy, delicious red berries. Much richer in flavor than the best-flavored commercial berries found in stores.

Day neutral and everbearing plants are recommended for gardeners with limited space, but you can choose whatever plants are available for your patch. You can also grow your strawberries from seed. Thompson and Morgan Seed Co. has a nice variety online, and other seed companies should, too.

When I picked the plants for my strawberry patch there were three different plants available: Ozark Beauty, an everbearer; Allstar, a June-bearing, mid-to-late season variety; and Quinalt, a plant that bears fruit June to first frost. I bought a container of each one.

Soil Preparation

You will want to choose a spot that has full sunshine, as strawberries do not grow well in a cold spot. Also be sure the ground has not been used for growing strawberries or potatoes for at least three years. Clear the ground of all debris and remove any weeds. Add as much organic compost as you can to insure the best crop possible and be sure to loosen soil about eight inches deep. Hoe and rake the area well. Depending on the size of your planting area, you can grow your berries in hills or in rows.

Planting

Rows should be spaced three to four feet apart and mounds at least twelve inches apart. Rows are best for June-bearing plants and mounds for day neutral and everbearing. Space your plants twelve to eighteen inches apart. Dig holes for the young transplants, but not too deep. Make sure the crown of your plant – the chunky part above the roots – is above the soil. Using your hand, firmly press the ground around the plants, then water them very well. If planting seed, follow the planting guidelines that come with your seed.

Caring for Your Strawberries

Keep your strawberries well watered. They are shallow-rooted plants and dry out very quickly in hot weather. Letting your strawberry patch dry completely will adversely affect your harvest.

If your area is prone to slugs, you will want to place slug pellets around the plants. If there are no organic varieties available, try using broken eggshells or dry sand around your plants.

Mulching

When the small fruit start to appear – late spring or early summer – cover the ground around your plants with a fairly thick layer of straw. If possible, use a “weed free” straw. Barley straw is the best. If no straw is available, use black plastic. Covering the ground around your strawberries helps to keep weeds down and keeps the berries from sitting on the ground. Contact with the ground will cause the berries to rot very quickly. It also gives the slugs easier access to eating your crop.

Protecting the Crop

As much as you like strawberries, the birds in your area like them just as much. Unless protected, the birds will eat your whole crop, and you will get none. To protect your berries, you can make a small wooden frame to stand over your patch and cover it with lightweight netting. The lighter the fabric, the easier it will be to remove it for harvesting your berries. When the plants are producing well, you will need to pick berries daily.

Weeding

Keeping your strawberry patch free of weeds is very important. Plan to cultivate around the plants and pull the weeds weekly. Applying the straw or other mulch will help to reduce the weed population as well as protecting the fruit.

Renovation

This is a very important part of caring for your strawberry patch. Your patch will continue to be productive for three to four years as long as the plants are maintained. Cut back your plants, using a mower if you have a large patch or a hand trimmer for smaller areas. Leave about an inch of the plant above the crown of the plant. Rake the leaves. If they are disease-free add to your compost pile or cultivate into the ground around your plants. Feed well – see below. Remove the weeds and thin the plants to twelve inches apart. Water well to promote new growth. Repeat this process as often as necessary, but no more than once yearly.

Feeding

After the first harvest of your second season, you should apply organic compost and composted steer manure, or droppings from any herbivore – rabbits, sheep, horses, etc. –around the plants and work into the soil. Water well so the nutrients will reach the roots.

Following these simple steps, you should be able to create a patch of strawberries that will produce for several years. Enjoy your harvest, and happy gardening!

© 2011 Off the Grid News

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There’s nothing quite as satisfying as enjoying the wholesome goodness of food from your own garden.

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