Thursday, May 28, 2009

Strawberries: The First Sign of Summer

Our first strawberry. I gave to the husband (Mr. Radish) and he graciously let me have a little bite. Holy cow! Delicious. I forgot how good strawberries could taste. This was so superior to the grocery store (and, occasionally the varieties at the Farmer's Market), I'm seriously considering devoting more of the garden to a strawberry patch. Currently we've got a 5 ft. x 3 ft. plot & 2 pots with them. And each plant next year will give up a quart or so of berries...

Maybe I should hold off...

I'm letting the ones in the pots produce, but I'm still pinching off the buds of the ones in the ground per the instructions they came with.

I've already discussed what strawberries need to survive. But, after they are in the ground (or pot) and flourishing, what's next? One of my friends, E, recently asked me the "Now what?" question. And, that was a really good question! This is my first year growing strawberries, so I did some research to find out the answers. (Specifically, Rodale's Garden Answers, Grow Magazine- Vol. 2 & Organic Gardening- June/July 2009.) Here are the answers:

Will the red berries get bigger if I leave them on the plant longer?
Nope. Strawberry plants have pre-determined sizes. Some varieties produce big fruit, some produce itty-bitty. Once they are red, they aren't going to get significantly bigger. However, clipping the runners before they set fruit will encourage larger strawberries because the plant will put more energy in producing fruit than creating "daughters."

If I pick the strawberries will I get more?
I can't find anything to back this up one way or another. However, it would make sense to me that if you harvest berries as soon as they are totally red & not let them sit around for a second, then the plant has the energy it was sending to the fruit to do something else. And just maybe that something else is to produce another berry!

Am I supposed to be fertilizing them or anything?
Grow recommends a slow release fertilizer every month during the growing season of the second & third years. Organic Gardening recommends a well-balanced organic fertilizer monthly during growing season, specifically a mixture of fish emulsion & seaweed (portions not mentioned). You should, however, stay away from high-nitrogen fertilizers as that will result in lots of leaves & not as many fruits.

Also, weed. Weeds compete with strawberries' shallow roots and potentially harbor diseases.

Oh, and when it's dry out, water them, but try to do it from ground level. Wet fruit & leaves can lead to disease.

How long should I leave them on the vine once they turn red?

They are ready for consumption the moment they are all red.

Finally, what do I need to do at the end of the season?
For the Mid-Atlantic area Rodale recommends shearing back the plants after they are done producing. You can do this with a lawnmower set to 1.5-2" (or, if you're in a raised bed like me, use your scissors). Dig up any rogue "daughters" & remove every single weed. Then spread a 1-in layer of compost over the whole bed, water, fertilize with diluted fish emulsion and apply straw mulch.

In late winter when you see pale new leaves beginning to grow, pull back the mulch around the crowns.

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