Strawberries – One of Life’s Most Enjoyable Treats
Easy to Grow. Here’s How.
Below is a close up of my just picked strawberries still in the basket, still in the patch.
If strawberries are missing from your home garden you are doing without one of life’s most enjoyable treats. Fruit can be in almost every home garden and especially strawberries. They are easy to grow and fun to eat.
If you can freeze some as well, you’ll have the makings of a dessert fit for royalty on hand when company comes unexpectedly. (Keep a container of Breyer’s Vanilla Ice Cream in the freezer with those strawberries and you’ll always be prepared.)
And then there’s strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam, strawberry muffins, strawberry salad (and yes, its wonderful!), strawberry smoothies, strawberry margaritas, and chocolate covered strawberries. Yummmmm——
Want to Grow Strawberries? Here’s How to Get Started.
Certified Virus Free Plants
Seed companies start shipping plants in mid-March, but you can plant even through the first week in June if your ground has adequate moisture. And if you can find a reputable company that still has stock of certified virus free plants. (I don’t know that you can find “certified virus free” at a local feed and seed.)
If you can’t find a company that still has stock, find one that will ship in the fall and plan to plant this September or even early October. It’s best to have your bed totally prepared BEFORE your plants arrive so you can get them in immediately. Planting in the fall will give the plants time to produce runners so that your crop next year will be more abundant.
Honeoye and Earliglow – “June Bearers”
I grow Honeoye as my main crop of berries. They are considered midseason and start giving me berries about the first week in May through at least the first part of June. I’ve seen in the catalogs that they are rated the best by home gardeners and commercial growers and I can see why. I usually pick every day, but Honeoye holds well on the plant when I have to miss a day. I find they have a high tolerance to fruit rot. More so, I think, than Earliglow.
The sweetest berry I have found over 30 years of growing strawberries is Earliglow. They are also the earliest to ripen. When I first started growing strawberries, Earliglow was all I would grow. The taste is so sweet! I still plant Earliglow, but I put them here and there around my flower borders and snack on them in season. The birds seem to get the biggest and the best of the Earliglow — I guess because they are so sweet.
Vistors to my garden who taste Honeoye first —- say Wow! That’s really good! Then I give them an Earliglow. The last fellow who was here said, “mmmmmm- That’s like its coated with sugar!” You will be amazed at how sweet these berries are!
How many Plants? How much space?
One order of berries from most catalogs contains 25 plants. That’s plenty to get you started, and for a cost of only about $10 (plus shipping). A small investment for big rewards.
You’ll need a row at least 15 feet by 3 feet for 25 plants. Maybe a little more. Allow 18 to 24 inches between each plant so the runners that develop will have at least 6 inches space between each. Additional runners can be cut off. Ideally, the more space between them, the bigger and more plentiful your fruits will be.
Consider Time When Determining How Many to Plant
Time is another reason you need to be realistic in determining how many strawberries you want to plant. Last year it took 30 minutes each day to harvest my berries. (The bed was planted in the fall of 2008, so the spring of 2009 was my first harvest from that planting.)
This year it has taken me an hour to harvest the same plants. As the season declines it will take less and less time. And remember to add the time in cleaning, preparing and preserving.
In May and June of 2009 I put up 20 pints of strawberries and had that much for fresh eating as well from a bed of 25 plants that were planted in the fall of 2008.
This year it appears that I have a bumper crop – as I already have 14 pints frozen and have had that much for eating as well. I should easily exceed my goal of 24 pints frozen and that much to eat fresh.
Need Soil High in Organic Matter
Your strawberry bed should have soil that is high in organic matter.
- If you are digging (or tilling) new soil, think about what you can add — chopped leaves would be excellent — to make it rich in organic matter.
- You can dig in chopped (with the lawn mower) straw if its not time for leaves.
- If you are preparing for a fall planting, go ahead and put in your vegetable kitchen scraps all through June and July. They will decay in plenty of time for September planting.
About the best thing you can do for success of your strawberries:
After proper soil preparation, just about the best thing you can do to insure the success of your strawberries is to mulch as heavily as you can. Mulch your bed before you get your strawberries. When your strawberries arrive, pull back straw at the spot you want to plant. Then pull the straw back up to the crown. As they grow, the plants will put out runners and they will run on top of the straw and put down roots.
Straw that settles to 2 or 3 inches deep is adequate, but if I had enough straw I’d make it 4 to 6 inches deep.
(Shown below – I chose a spot in my garden for a new planting this past mid-March.)
Benefits of Mulching
I can’t imagine growing berries without mulching. The benefits are great and many.
1. As mulch decays, it makes organic matter and thus, feeds your berries.
2. It holds the moisture about 70% longer than bare ground. And in normal Virginia summers that is important.
3. It keeps weeds down and the ones that do get through can be easily pulled. Strawberries don’t like competition.
4. Fungi that carry leaf spot and other problems that affect strawberries are often transmitted in rain-splashed soil. Mulch prevents the splash.
5. Keeps the soil from baking in the sun and from compacting in the rain.
6. It keeps your berries clean. This is important since the fruit requires careful handling. If the berries are covered with dirt, its almost impossible to get the dirt off and keep the berries intact. When they come from the garden 99% free of debris – its easy to rinse them gently in water.
7. A bonus benefit — Although light frost won’t harm strawberries in bloom – a heavy frost might. Just pull some straw over the blossom to protect them if you know you are going to have a heavy frost.
Instructions That Come with Strawberries
By the way, most instructions that come with strawberries suggest taking the blossom off the new plants so that the energy will be directed toward making runners. (This does not apply to everbearing berries.) It is said to be important because the runners give you a bigger crop since they also will produce berries. This seems an excellent idea, but I have to tell you I never do it. I just don’t need something else to do—–so I don’t. I let the berries come and eat them. I let the runners come. I always have lots of fruit.
Harvesting – The more you harvest, the more you will have. The less you harvest the less strawberries you will have. I harvest almost everyday. There are days I miss, but not often.
How to Wash Strawberries
It takes me only about 10 minutes – if that long – to clean my berries since they are 99% free of debris. I swish them gently in a bowl of water WITH THE CAPS STILL ON. (When I harvest the berry I pull it so the cap will remain intact. It doesn’ always, but at least 80% of the time it does.) Washing with the caps still on helps preserve the strawberry flavor.
Drain in a colander or on a paper towels. (If you use a cloth towel — remember strawberries will stain.)
To Prepare for Freezing
I slice the berries, fill pint ziploc bags, remove air from the bag with a straw, and freeze. (A straw works great to take the air out of the bag if you don’t have a vacuum sealer — which I don’t.)
It takes approximately 10 minutes to clean, remove the hulls, and slice enough berries for a pint bag. Today, I had enough berries for 6 full pints and it took me 1 hour.
One pint is what I use for over ice cream for 4 people.
To Use the Frozen Berries
Remove from freezer. Put on plate in frig to thaw. Use within an hour or so of thawing.
To thaw more quickly, place sealed bag of berries in bowl or pan of cold water until thawed.
Here they are — ready to use:
If you have grown and frozen Earliglow you probably won’t have to add sugar. If you grow and freeze the Honeoye you might want to sprinkle them with Stievia (we do) or sugar immediately before serving. If I’m serving with ice cream, they are sweet enough for our taste without the Stievia or sugar.
When I harvest in the evening, I allow the berries I am going to use for breakfast the next morning, to sit in a basket on a table in the kitchen (or in the other room if the kitchen gets too hot) until then.
* Refrigeration destroys the delicate flavor of berries.
* Berries deteriorate rapidly and I don’t keep them longer than 12 hours —- 24 hours at THE MOST.
Regarding Store Bought Berries
If you’ve only had store bought strawberries in your life — you have not had strawberries. Those berries are developed to be large and stay decent looking while being shipped and sitting in the store. In addition to being loaded with pesticides they have no strawberry taste at all.
As beautiful as my plants are in the spring and even through May, they start to look pretty shabby by the time fruiting is finished in mid or late June. The most common problems experienced by strawberries are caused by fungi which are most prevalent during period of warm, wet weather. They are leaf spot, leaf scorch and grey mold also known as fruit rot.
Leaf spot (pictured below) starts to show up on my plants in early May. By June it has spread and on many leaves has discolored the entire leave. Since it is my understanding that leaf scorch is sort of a progression of leaf spot I think I have had it at the end of various past years fruiting seasons.
I don’t have too much trouble with grey mold, but I do have some. I have good ventilation (a very important necessity for any living plants) so its not really a problem. It can become a problem if you get an extended rainy spell and hot humid weather as well.
Care of Your Strawberries After the Harvest
Because of these pathogens that effect most strawberries no matter how disease free they are when you plant them, it is important that you renovate your bed immediately after fruiting is done in mid or late June. This involves cutting off any old leaves and stems and removing as much as you can from the bed so that any pathogens will not spread.
If you can get into your bed with a lawn mower with the blade set on high, you could cut the bed and then rake out the cuttings. This doesn’t work for me and I usually cut them by hand which can be a killer job. (Mowing is suitable for June bearing berries.)
I also thin the bed. If you can tell which plants are the original ones, take them out and leave the newer plants. In any event, thin until there is about 6 inches of space between plants.
Last year Bill cut the bed with a weed eater which is VERY DANGEROUS because it can cut the crowns of the plants. That is something you want to avoid or you won’t get any fruit next year. Anyway, it had a happy ending and it seems he did an excellent job because we have a bumper crop this year.
I raked all the old leaves and stems out of the bed and the little bit of mulch that had not deteriorated and let the sun and elements work on killing remaining pathogens for the next several weeks. Also I used the opportunity to get out any wire grass or weeds that I had not been able to remove during the fruiting season.
Feeding – Do You Need it?
Most of my garden is fed by decaying straw, leaves and kitchen scrapes. I very seldom use any product to feed my plants. Over a 30 year period I have used a Garden’s Alive product called Strawberries Alive – 3 times —-or maybe 4. Last fall was one of those time.
The site had been prepared in the spring of 2008 (outside of my garden) and there was not a lot of organic matter in the bed. I planted new strawberries there in the fall of 2008. When I renovated the bed in mid June of 2009 and after the leaves started to make a comeback, I used Strawberries Alive. I scratched in about 1 tsp within 3 inches of each plant.
At some point we had a nice soaking rain and that’s when I started to add straw. I added at least an inch thick layer to begin with. As the leaves stood taller I added another inch of straw. In late winter — just before the strawberries start to grow again – I added more straw.
Picture #1 – This is my strawberry bed as it looked May 3, 2010. The transformation (see Pictures #2 and #3) over a two months period is amazing!
Picture #2 – This is the same bed (side view) as it looked on March 6, 2010.
Picture #3 – This is the same bed from the far end looking through the fig tree branches on March 6, 2010. I raked more leaves out and added more straw after this.
New Plants Every 4 Years
Renovation each year extends the life of your planting. But I have found that to have the best quality berries and plants that are relatively free from problems, I should replant at least every 4 years in another place. (Sometimes I can’t do this.) The idea being that the pathogens that cause the various strawberry problems will have a chance to then die out in the old bed when the strawberries are removed AND where you plant the new bed will be free of them because you have not had strawberries in the new place for at least 5 years.
I lost an entire crop in 2008 because I did not want to face up to needing new plants in a new bed.
Then when I did rush to put in a new bed and new crop of berries I didn’t have time to prepare a bed that was already rich in organic matter and thus ended up with a bed was not as satisfactory as desired.
Take Imperfect Action Rather Than Wait for Perfect Conditions
You need not be overwhelmed by less than perfect conditions to do any garden chores. You’ll get much more accomplished by taking imperfect action rather than to wait for the perfect conditions and possibly not plant at all. If you haven’t planted strawberries I hope you will be encouraged to do so. They give you a great return on your investment.
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