Saturday, March 19, 2011

Having My Way With Strawberries

I've always had good luck growing strawberries up here in Minnesota. (Knock on wood.) This possibly has a lot to do with the fact that wild strawberries are prolific in our area. Something obviously is right for strawberry growth.

Last year, as some of you will remember, seemed to be a bumper year for my strawberries. At least I think it was. What I mean is that this was the first year ever that I actually weighed each and every bowl and/or bucketful I brought in from the garden. The grand total when I quit picking for the season . . . yes, there were still some small berries out there but I was TIRED . . . was 174 pounds and 6 ounces. I honestly don't think this was an extraordinarily huge harvest because I didn't can, freeze, dry or give away many more strawberries than usual.

What do I do with all my berries? We eat as many fresh as we can while they are in season. And I mean we eat them every day, sometimes more than one serving. No one has ever turned me down when I offered them a bowl of fresh picked strawberries, so we give quite a few away. We have sold some to a restaurant in town. I freeze the bulk of them to use in our kefir/yogurt smoothies during the year. I dehydrate a certain amount each year. And I make a lot of strawberry jam much of which gets gifted at Christmas time.

A few years ago I had some kind of mold in the strawberry patch. It wasn't a particularly wet year so I don't think I can attribute it to that. But it was indeed disheartening as I picked as many moldy berries as I did ones that were edible. After the season was over, I followed the same procedures I always do (I'll detail that further on down), crossed my fingers and was absolutely elated when the mold was gone the next year although, truth to tell, I remember that year's harvest as being a bit less than usual. The plants must have suffered some stress from the mold disease and needed time to bounce back to their usual vigor.

Other than the above described mold problem, I've never had any big problems with the strawberries. Some springs I've found a few plants that are deader-than-doornails which I suppose can be attributed to freezing or winter kill.

I plant my berries in double rows with three feet between each double row. The berries within the double rows are spaced one foot apart in all directions and staggered so they aren't directly across from each other. The double rows could be as long as wanted, obviously, but mine are about 16' long. (I have four double rows of plants.)

There are approximately 145 plants (give or take a few) in my strawberry patch right now. Two-thirds of them are five years old and about one-third of them will be three years old this year.

When I put in new plants I always pop off all blossoms the first year so all the strength can go to the new plant. It is the second year the plant is in the ground before I'll get any berries off of it.

Heavy mulching of strawberries during their growing season is essential for me. They are not happy if weeds are allowed to grow in or around them. My biggest weed problem is the dandelion. We grow mighty healthy dandelion plants up here and they have a penchant for growing right smack in the middle of individual plants! Also prevalent is quackgrass which will choke out any berry or vegetable if allowed to go unchecked.

With sawdust (strawberries like an acidic soil, somewhere in the range of 5.5 to 6.5) I mulch around and right up to each and every plant. If I have access to enough sawdust, I spread it to cover the three foot wide paths between each double row, too. If sawdust is not available, I use straw. Usually the sawdust right around the plants will hold up for the whole season, but I often have to do some hand weeding and reapply a new layer of mulch between the wide rows.

Although it takes a lot of time, I'm vigilant in keeping the weeds out of my strawberry patch and I do think that contributes to the good harvests I'm able to get.

I'll stop here (this is getting pretty long) as the first installment of how I handle my strawberries, and continue on next post.


Kaytee said...

I'm so jealous. Someday I'll have some land big enough to have a large strawberry patch like that. Thanks for the tips on growing them. I planted a few plants last year and I don't really know too much about caring for them.

meemsnyc said...

OMG, I am so jealous! We can't wait until we have strawberries this year. We just planted ours last year, so we hit the one year mark.

Mama Pea said...

Kaytee - After reaping the harvest off your few plants this year, I bet you'll be planting more! You could get a lot of plants just by plowing up a four foot wide strip in the middle of your lawn.

meemsnyc - Isn't it HARD to wait that whole year to be able to pick your first berries??!

ThyHandHathProvided said...

It sounds like you have a great system going. We're starting a new bed this year (old bed started to majorly decline after 5 years), so we're not expecting much and this is hard for me to handle. How many of your strawberries do you think homing pigeons could carry down here? Okay, so not one of my best ideas....

mtnchild said...

If you are in the experimental mode, there is a recipe for Dandelion jelly over on 3 Acre Homestead.
When spring is here, I intend to try it out as I get Dandelions by the TONS! You only use the yellow flower leaves, so there is a bit of work, but I'm not against work and I know by your blog that neither are you.
Just an idea I thought I'd throw your way. I have a small, tiny 3x4 foot strawberry patch, but with the dirt I have, or lack thereof, I have problems getting more than 1 or 2 dozen in a season - I wonder if the plants are too old ... Hmmm?

Jane said...

Sawdust in the strawberries? Well I must try that this year. I sure have enough of that lying around. I see mine are starting to come to life. It really is spring.

LindaCO said...

I'm really looking forward to hearing more about your processes up there. Thanks for sharing this info.

Do you know how much the taste of strawberries is a function of the soil vs the variety? I've got a few plants on the alley side of my house, which are in kind of poor soil, and they don't taste like anything. I'd dig them up and transplant them to better soil if they produced better tasting fruit. As it is, I'm thinking of pulling them up.

Erin said...

sounds like a great system!

Tiny Gardener said...

I am so excited that someone is talking about growing berries! We are putting in a strawberry bed next year, and I just can't wait!

Jenni said...

Such great timing, I was just working on my strawberry patch yesterday! I didn't know that sawdust could help with the acidity of the soil, fantastic! Wonderful to stop by your blog today ~ cheers, Jenni

Mama Pea said...

ThyHand - Oh, just the thought of not having any homegrown strawberries! Do you have a pick your own place that you could use for this year?

Yvette - Hey, thanks, I will follow up on the dandelion jelly recipe . . . when they are in bloom, they cover our whole lawn area. I think they're beautiful . . . except when they pop up in the middle of a strawberry plant!

Jane - Yes, sawdust on your strawberries! Reminds me of the old joke: First Man - "I always put manure on my strawberries." Second Man - "Personally, I prefer cream." Ha-ha-ha-ha!

LindaCO - Oh, yes, I do think soil can affect the flavor of your berries. And I think the flavor of one variety can differ from one part of the country to another. 'Course, you could just have a blah tasting variety, too!

Erin - Our climates are SO different, I don't know how my system would work by you. Just gotta experiment, I guess!

Tiny Gardener - Even though I say they are labor intensive, you can sure get a lot of fruit for your labors! Hard to beat fresh (I mean straight from the garden) strawberries!

Jenni - Welcome! And thanks for commenting. Pine needles are also good but aren't as easy to use as mulch as the sawdust. But they do add the needed acidic content to the soil. So will peat moss which I've found good for keeping weeds down if you put it on heavily enough.

Anonymous said...

Great post Mama Pea. Thanks for the strawberry growing lesson. So I wonder...if I plant some in containers this summer, should I not expect too much?

Mama Pea said...

Rain - Strawberries are known for growing well in containers! You'd certainly get some for fresh eating.