Growing Green: strawberry fields forever
Growing your own strawberries is one of the most rewarding gardening activities.
Since strawberries are a perennial plant, they can produce a bountiful crop for four years when properly cared for, and they are not difficult to grow.
There are two types of strawberries.
The most common type is June-bearing, which does not produce a crop the first year, but produces an abundant, early summer crop for the next four years.
The other type is called day-neutral. These plants will produce the same year as planted. They produce through the summer and fall for only one or two years. The berries tend to be smaller.
Strawberries like a well-drained soil with a pH of around 6.5. They have a fairly small root system. Plants respond to small amounts of fertilizer applied several times during the growing season. However, they do most of their growing in the spring and fall. They do well in soil high in organic matter.
Strawberries should be planted in early to mid-May. June-bearing strawberry plants should be spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart in the row. They will produce an abundance of runners which will make daughter plants. Pull the runners into the row before they root into the soil. Your goal is to end the first summer with a 12-inch-wide row consisting of many new plants.
Like other garden plants, it is important that weeds are removed throughout the growing season. You need to water the new planting during dry weather as the root system is limited.
If you do not want to plant your own, there are many pick-your-own places in the Lehigh Valley.
If this is your first pick-your-own season, here are a few hints to make the experience more enjoyable.
Start by locating a pick-your-own patch. Most farmers selling berries place ads in newspapers a few days before they expect the strawberries to ripen. Or you can stop at a farm market and ask about pick-your-own fields.
After you find a place, check for days and hours for picking, what the price is, and whether you have to supply your own containers. If you have children, ask if they are allowed in the patch with you.
If you are not wearing the right clothes, you will not have a good time. Slacks are better than shorts, and some type of padding for your knees will cut out a lot of aches and pains. A long-sleeved shirt and a broad-brimmed hat will give you protection from the sun. An insect repellent may discourage some of those “non-paying” visitors to the field who are more interested in you than the strawberries.
Whether you pick from your own garden or at a pick-your-own farm, here are a few tips:
Be careful that your feet and knees do not damage plants or fruit in or along the edge of the row.
Remember that heaping strawberries more than five inches deep will bruise the lower berries.
Pick only the berries that are fully red. Part the leaves with your hands to avoid missing berries ready for harvest.
Berries to be used immediately may be picked any time, but if you plan to hold the fruit for a few days, try to pick during early morning or on cool, cloudy days. Berries picked during the heat of the day become soft, are easily bruised, and will not keep as well. Cool them as soon as possible after picking.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.