One of my favorite kinds of food to grow is strawberries. I just love strawberries. I have only been growing them for 4 years and as this year’s crop comes to an end, I have taken a few minutes to look back on my experiments and see what I have learned. I guess I have been doing some things right. My neighbor keeps asking me how I get them to taste so much like strawberries. I think he is used to getting grocery store berries. But, I must admit that these are some of the tastiest strawberries I have ever eaten.
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Choosing plugs or bare root plants
I choose to use strawberry plugs. These are plants that are usually started from runners and grown in a greenhouse. They come in soil, with an intact root ball and are actively growing. I prefer to use these for several reasons. You plant these in the Fall and pick them in the Spring. You only have about a 1% loss of plants using this option. Also, the plants will become more vigorous sooner. I grow Chandler and Sweet Charlie. The plugs are typically shipped anywhere from the beginning of September to the beginning of October depending on your location. It is a good idea to plant these as soon as you possibly can, but it is not essential to plant them immediately.
Bare root strawberries are usually stored in a freezer and shipped dormant. They need to be planted right away. They come with no dirt on their roots and are usually rubber banded together in a lot of 25 plants. There is about a 15 – 20% loss on this option. These are planted in the Spring. You will not get as large of a crop with this method, as the growing season is shorter. But, if you are growing at home, how many strawberries do you need? I got lots and lots with the plugs and ended up putting up lots and lots and giving away lots and lots to neighbors and friends.
Choosing a location for Your Strawberries
Strawberries like a location with plenty of sunshine. As with any crop you should keep it weed free. The soil should have good drainage and a pH of about 6.5. If you do not have a location that will drain well it is best to grow your strawberries in a Raised Garden Bed. Mix peat moss or compost with your soil as you are working it prior to planting.
Planting Your Strawberries
The berries should be planted about 12 – 18 inches apart in rows that are 3 – 4 feet apart. You should plant them so that the midpoint of the crown is level with the soil.
If you plant them too deep or too shallow you run the risk of losing the plant. The easiest way to keep the strawberries weed free is to use plastic garden mulch. We use the white on black here in the South to help keep our soil cooler. We use a Drip Tape Irrigation System under the plastic mulch. Even with the mulch we find that we have runners that make their way to the edge of the bed and they will take root.
Care in Winter (for Strawberry plugs)
There are a couple of different way s to approach this. You can mulch with about 2″ of straw or hay in the winter when they start to go dormant. You will want to leave this on until the tops of the crowns start to show in the Spring. We have so many limited cold days in the Winter that we chose another option. We use Frost Protection Row Cover and only put it on when the temperature drops below freezing at night. We got this idea by watching our commercial strawberry growers in the area. This year I had a long double row and a short double row that was only about 10 feet long. I decided to experiment with the short row. We had unbelievably cold temperatures this winter. We even got down to 9 degrees F one night. That was a record for us. The entire week was chilly with overnight temps in the teens. I decided not to cover my short row during this week. Actually, I did not cover my short row all Winter long. The plants suffered a little bit with some burn on the leaves. But, come Spring they were producing at the same rate as the long row. I would not try this in a colder location, but it worked out well for us. This is the second year for these plants. Strawberries are perennials, so they grow year after year. I will probably try to leave them in for one more year, although I did see slightly smaller berries this year. The first year I grew them they died in our summer heat. Actually, my first try was not all that successful. I am not entirely sure why. But, we did move them from a separate location into our main garden the second year. I tried using a low tunnel with the slitted cover that winter. I left it on all winter, even though that is not the recommended way to use them. The problem came in the Spring. I was in there with a paint brush hand pollinating everything. I have to tell you, that didn’t last long. It was time for them to make it on their own or not. So, I reluctantly removed the cover. They did just fine. We removed these plants as we needed the space for other items. But, my third attempt has been my most successful just using the frost protection as needed. As I mentioned these plants are still in the ground producing in my strawberry growing year 4.
Preserving Your Strawberries
So, now that you have a bumper crop what do you do with your strawberries? I use several different manners of preserving. I made Strawberry Jam. Nothing better. I froze some. I wash them well and put them on a cookie sheet lined with clingy wrap in the freezer to pre freeze. Some of them I leave whole, some I cut in slices. We let them freeze overnight. In the morning we take them out and portion them in proper sizes for us and put them in one of our FoodSaver bags. This is a vacuum sealer. We have owned one for probably 15 – 20 years now. It is super as far as extending the life of food in the freezer. We then mark our bags and put them back in the freezer. Another way is to dehydrate them. We have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator that we have owned probably for 15 – 20 years. I like to slice them thin, my husband says too thin, but hey, I am doing the work so it goes the way I like it. Then you just leave them in the dehydrator on the preset temperature for the suggested time. I just store them in a plastic container and leave them sitting on my kitchen counter. They are great for a sweet little snack. Probably better for me than the snack size chocolates I keep in my freezer. I mean they are pure strawberries and nothing else. But boy, when you dehydrate them they become really sweet. Maybe that is why I like to cut them into thin slices.
This is not the only way to grow strawberries. They do well in containers. I have grown them before in a Strawberry Pot. These work well. I like to put them on a turntable type base so that I can turn them easily, but they can be turned manually just as easily. Give it a try. I am sure you will find growing your own strawberries totally enjoyable and delicious.