Crop Profile: Strawberries
By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor
Friday, March 23, 2012
Photo by Rick Gush
Strawberries aren’t really particular and can be grown in any temperate area, but they don’t grow well in tropical conditions because they get badly mauled by pests in places like Hawaii . They don’t like alkaline soil very much and definitely grow best in soils enriched with organic matter. Strawberries grow nicely in cooler places, such as New England, and grow particularly well during the long season from spring to fall in sunny, moderate places like California.
The biggest problem with growing strawberries is that the crop has a lot of pests that bothers it, and it also has a confusing fruiting schedule. There are two main types of strawberries: the June-bearing types that bears one crop a year and the everbearing types that generally bear two crops. The June-bearing variety usually produces the largest fruits, which is why most commercial growers use. The everbearing types can be allowed to produce two small crops, or the first flowers can be picked off to set up the production of a much larger crop on the second cycle. There are some new, day-neutral types on the market that are neither single or double cropping, but actually more everbearing. These varieties don’t usually produce the nice, big fruits everybody seems to like so much. While commercial growers always target a single crop, regardless of whether they are growing a June bearer or an everbearing variety, clever home gardeners often grow a mix of many different strawberry types in their patch, which allows for a longer, fresh harvesting season.
The pests that take over strawberries can be horrific; it’s no wonder that a lot of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides are used on commercial crops. Organic growers need to figure out the most effective methods of prevention for their particular situation and pest problems. In order to prevent fungal problems, commercial strawberry growers often cover the beds with black plastic after fumigating the soil. The plastic also keeps the weeds at bay. Strawberry plants aren’t particularly competitive, so weeds can easily crowd them to the point that fruiting is actually reduced.
Probably the biggest single error that home gardeners make is planting strawberries too deeply. The crown of the plants should always be located just above soil level. The next most common error is not removing the many side shoots from the plants. These side shoots can be used to spread the plantings or make new plants for replanting; however, leaving the side shoots on a fruiting plant will reduce the fruiting vigor significantly.
Birds and slugs are voracious eaters of ripe fruit, so measures must be taken to avoid having those pests eat all the berries. Row covers can protect strawberry beds from birds, and slugs and snails can be battled with organic snail pellets or any of the zillion other zany methods, including getting slugs to drown themselves in plates full of beer.
I grow strawberries in the crevices of the upright concrete and glass bottle walls that make the terraces in our garden. In this way, slug access is minimized, and the ripening fruits hang in midair rather than lying in the garden mud.
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