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GROWING STRAWBERRIES – – – The Joy of Foraging at Home
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Television programs and commercials often show people biting into strawberries that are completely white in the center. The actors roll their eyes in ecstasy at the flavor that I am certain is actually a huge, and extremely sour, disappointment to them. Since we “eat with our eyes first,” this ought to be enough incentive for anyone to grow their own fruit.
Strawberries are often picked and shipped when the exterior is barely red and the “shoulders” and interior are white. In fact, some strawberry varieties never get completely red in the center, no matter how long they remain on the plant.
My search for the ideal strawberry was quite an adventure. Perhaps I should say “misadventure,” since a trip to the doctor’s office for a tetanus shot was never in my plans. (NOTE: Always handle garden tools with care.) This did not deter me from my goal.
I bypassed the hype laden accounts of strawberries the size of golf balls and those that supposedly taste like peaches, raspberries, pineapple, or even grape flavored drink mix. I evaluated and eliminated the ones that were far too temperamental to grow. Some strawberries are so soft and mushy they can be ruined by even one rain. Some have such a bland flavor you barely know what you’re eating. Others might be loaded with tiny, hard seeds.
I leaned heavily in favor of strawberries that have been on the market for decades since there was no danger that they might be “Genetically Modified.” I gave top billing to flavor and fragrance. There is a reason why the intensely red, very tiny wild strawberry is still considered to be the ultimate in flavor, fragrance, and appearance. Sadly, it takes extreme good luck to find enough of them to cook with.
TYPES OF STRAWBERRIES
- June Bearing Strawberries are popular with folks who want just one crop of fruit per year to preserve.
- Everbearing Strawberries produce a crop early in the year, then continue to bear fruit in varying amounts till first frost.
- Day Neutral Strawberries are supposed to be an improved version of the Everbearing Strawberry, but while they aren’t picky about sun or shade, they are awfully fussy about temperature. While you can choose where to plant your berries and the amount of sunlight they will receive, you have no control over the temperatures you will have that season, from abnormally cool to blistering drought. Day Neutral berries can also be very hard to overwinter.
LIFE SPAN OF STRAWBERRY PLANTS
Strawberry plants are very short lived. You might possibly get 3 to 6 years out of them. This is not a problem since they are constantly sending out runners, which are new plants.
Over time, a strawberry bed will become so choked with new plants and runners, that it will cut way back on fruit production. This is no time to be tenderhearted. You need to thin your strawberry plants about once every 3 years.
SIZE OF FRUIT PRODUCTION IN STRAWBERRIES
The better you “feed” your strawberry plants, the more fruit they will produce. Strawberries like a soil pH of between 6.0 to 7.0. If the strawberry leaves turn bright red later in the year, that means a nitrogen deficiency.
Strawberries produce an average of 1 pint of fruit per plant for June Bearers. Everbearing Strawberries produce about 1/2 to 1 pound per plant.
When planting strawberries, the planting hole should be dug deep enough to accommodate the roots. If you don’t, within a few weeks you’ll probably see the plant standing out of the ground on little “legs” (roots,) which is something irises will do as well.
You don’t need to form a cone of soil at the bottom of the hole and drape the strawberry roots over it. Just fan the roots out as you plant them and firm the soil in around them.
I always dunk the strawberry plants in a bucket of water to wet them thoroughly before I plant them. It’s also a good idea to pour water into the planting hole first, and let it drain down in before inserting the plant, then water again when you are finished. Plant them at least 15 inches apart. This gives them room to reach out with runners.
I like to put stepping stones in the strawberry patch to prevent having to step on the fruit as you pick. Strawberries love sandy soil and hate “wet feet” (wet soil.)
If the idea of maintaining a big strawberry bed puts you off, you can still have berries growing in containers, hanging pots, and around shrubs.
Strawberries grown in hanging pots have a better chance of surviving to harvest time without being raided by birds. They have a hard time getting at the fruit that dangles over the sides of the pot.
They could possibly be naturalized in an asparagus patch, which is an experiment I plan to try. I’ve seen wild asparagus growing intermingled with tiny wild strawberries, and they didn’t seem to mind each other’s company.
The strawberries that grow just outside my kitchen door are spreading vigorously amid the perennials and flowering bulbs. My decision to plant them there might have been unwise since visitors and delivery men spot them immediately. Many times I have answered the door to find them happily munching away on the irresistible and fragrant fruit. Fortunately, these berries produce multitudes of runners that I intend to transplant to a more concealed location.
I planted the original bareroot plants using a long-handled bulb planter. This made it easier to insert them here and there between the other plants in the flower border.
GROWING STRAWBERRIES AS GROUND COVER
Strawberries can double as a ground cover in the flower border around a home and help to disguise the Spring bulbs as they go dormant or fill in the empty spaces between plants. Birds don’t seem to bother the strawberries as much. I don’t know if they’re too timid to come that close to a house, or if they just didn’t notice them as much when they’re interplanted with flowers.
The “Ogallala” Strawberry, which is my family favorite, is ideal for this purpose. The wonderfully tall foliage also hides the fruit from the birds.
GROWING STRAWBERRIES AS A HOUSE PLANT
Growing berries indoors is a new concept for many people, but strawberries are pretty easy to get along with. Just be sure to put the pots in a sunny location and out of reach of pets and children.
Pollination is sometimes done by hand. Nevertheless, I would wait till the blossoms were starting to form, and let them spend a few days sitting in front of the oscillating fan (on low speed.) Be sure to turn the pots periodically.
They need a dormant period in order to come back and produce fruit the next year, so you might have to let the pots sit outside for a few days in the Fall before letting them spend the Winter in the garage.
HAPPY PLANTING! Susan