Strawberries are a perennial herb that can be grown in most areas of the United States,as well as Canada. Certain varieties can even be grown in Alaska. They grow best in a cool, moist climate but certain varieties have been developed for growth in the south. If you have any doubts talk to your local nursery, or ag extension office.
Strawberries were not cultivated in the United States until around 1840 when a crossbred berry was developed near Boston. They had been grown in Europe since the 1500s, and the tiny fruited, wild varieties were enjoyed by the early settlers. However, by crossing a large, but nearly tasteless South American berry with the tiny, sweet wild strawberries that were abundant in the north east, a sweet, large berry was created. It is the forerunner of all the modern varieties available.
Planting and Culture
The first step to an abundance of fantastic strawberries is a good quality strawberry bed. Choose an area where the soil is well drained, and not too alkaline. A light, rich loam with a ph of 5-6 is perfect. If you don't have that available you can dig out the dirt you do have and fill the bed with a mixture of loam, compost and well rotted manure, at a rate of 250 lbs of manure for every 500 square feet of garden. Prepare the bed in the fall for spring planting.
As soon as the soil is workable in the spring you may set your plants. As a general rule there should be 25 plants planted per family member and 25 plants for posterity. Another way to figure the amount of plants that should be planted is to plan on 50 quarts of berries for every 100 feet of row.
Use young plants with a vigorous root system. Before planting cut out any damaged or diseased leaves and roots. Dig a hole for each plant that is large enough to contain the roots without crowding them. Heap a mound of soil in the center of the hole to seat the plant and support the root structure.
The plant should be set deep enough that the roots are covered but not so deeply that any of the developing leaves are covered. Half fill the hole with soil. Pour water in and allow to dissipate. Add the rest of the soil and firm it up around the plant. Invert a berry box over the plant for a few days to protect it. Keep soil moist, but not wet, for the first week.
Matted rows are actually one of the best planting techniques for the homesteader who is not using a raised bed system. Plants are set 18 inches apart in rows that are three to four feet apart. The runners are permitted to grow during the first season, with only the buds being removed to strengthen the plants. A matt is formed over the season. For easiest harvest keep the rows no more than three feet wide. Generally the plants will be plowed under after three years and the bed started again.
Permanently mulched bed is another good way to grow strawberries. In this technique the plants are planted according to the instructions above, and allowed to bear. When harvesting the grower marks his best bearing plants, spacing the markers 10 inches apart if possible. When the berries are harvested, the unmarked plants are culled, and a side dressing of compost and well rotted manure applied. The plants are allowed to send out runners for the next season's plants.
By selecting the best plants every year, the patch will continue to bear an increasingly stronger, and better crop.Strawberries should be mulched over to protect them during the winter, in order to prevent freezing and drying. Wait until the garden is frozen and then mulch over the plants with straw or other mulch, in a layer about four inches deep. Do this toward the last part of November. Be sure to remove the mulch as soon as the ground thaws, but after danger of a hard freeze is over.
Diseases and Insects that Attack Strawberries
In order to keep your plants healthy be sure to choose varieties that are resistant to diseases and insects prevalent in your area. Buy good, disease free stock, and replace the old plants with new plants (from runners, or bought) every year. If you are not using a permanent bed then rotate the berry patch regularly.
- Red Stele-causes plants to wilt and die just before fruit ripens. It is a fungi that is most active in wet weather, and wet soil. Plant resistant varieties and make sure the bed has good drainage.
- Verticillum Wilt- is a fungus that causes the leaves to dry and turn brown. Plant resistant varieties and do not plant strawberries where tomatoes,peppers or potatoes have been planted previously.
- Insects should be controlled with organic methods. If pests are a bad problem destroy the plants and make a new garden at least 300 feet away.
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Varieties of Strawberry
There are numerous strawberry varieties available and it would be impossible to keep up with them all. Some recommended varieties are:
Canada adn Northern U.S.
Northeastern U.S and North Atlantic
Again, there are many more berries, and since micro-climates can make a difference, do check locally which varieties are recommended for your area.
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