Friday, February 22, 2013
Love Strawberries? Grow Your Own
Growing your own strawberries is so wonderful and easy. Strawberry plants have zero pests, are hardy in most zones and will reproduce plants for you so you can expand your crop if you wish.
The most important first step when you decide you want to grow strawberries is determining where you want to grow them. They do best in their own bed or garden area because they should not have to compete with other plants for nutrients and space. And they need room to spread their legs~literally. Strawberry plants send out runners and make new plants from the main or "Mother" plant. This can be a burden or a blessing to the gardener. If you have space and want to increase your crop, strawberries are working it for ya! If you have limited space then you can enjoy growing strawberries too but you will have to work a bit harder keeping them contained by removing the runners and giving them to a friend or neighbor for their garden.
The first thing I noticed when I started growing straws was how quick they make runners and baby plants, they don't waste any time propagating, making babies usually in the first couple months after planting.
To start, I built a 4' x 8' raised bed out of 2 x 8 pine. Eight inches is plenty deep for a strawberry bed because they are shallow rooted plants. I planted 25 plants down the middle of the bed in two rows. So 12in one row and 13 in another row about 8-12 inches from the first. See photo below.....
The first year I planted the bed I planted onions on each outer edge only because I knew the straws would take a while to get going and strawberries like to grow near onions. I mulched with straw NOT hay.
I filled the beds with 1/3 loam and 2/3 aged cow manure. My experience has been that strawberries do not need much fertilizer if any. The manure seems to feed them well. I did add a little lime to each bed which will last for a couple years.
This is the same bed four weeks later. They went crazy and were producing flowers already. They loved their new bed.
This is a photo taken in July, four months after I planted the beds. The onions are out and if you can see the center plants,"Mothers" are starting to make runners and I planted the runners to the side of the row creating a new row. I also scattered a few more runners staggered between the rows. Once the baby plants have rooted into the soil you can snip of the cord holding it to the Mother plant. As soon as runners are formed you will almost immediately see roots forming on the baby. Gives the roots a couple days to grow out then just tuck the baby gently into the soil and in a few more days it will have taken hold and started getting bigger. This is when you can snip the cord from Mom. And in 2-4 more weeks this is what you will have.....
As you can see the babies are now making babies. I planted two beds last year and will need to build about four more to accommodate my crop.
About varieties: June Bearers are plants that produce for approximately 8 weeks, having bigger berries and then are done producing. Everbearers are plants that produce over a longer season producing right up until frost and their berries are usually a little smaller than June bearers.
The biggest problem I had with my strawberries was keeping the birds away from them. I plan on using hardware cloth to cover the beds and elevating it by a few inches to keep it off the plants. I do not recommend bird netting because birds can get caught in it.
Planting Your Plants:
Dig out a hole big enough to spread out the roots of each strawberry plant. In the bottom of the hole, create a mound or hill of soil that is flush with the surrounding soil level. Put the strawberry plant on top of the hill inside the hole so that the crown is at soil level and spread the roots out down the sides of the hill. Fill in the hole and ensure that the soil level is even with the middle of the crown. Planting too shallow may cause the roots to dry out before they establish, and planting too deep can also damage growing strawberries. See the figure below for proper crown placement. Once the plants are planted, press to firm the soil around the roots and then water thoroughly.
After the first year you can fertilize in very early Spring with a 5-10-10 fertilizer or a seaweed and fish emulsion water soluble fertilizer. This will help the beds get a needed boost after Winter. You can also add a light layer of aged manure around the plants and between the rows to help cover new roots that have formed and build up settling soil levels in the bed.
Most strawberry plants are Winter hardy but it does not hurt to mulch with straw in early Winter if you are in a zone that goes below freezing for a good part of the Winter or if you get a great deal of snow. In early Spring remove the straw, add your manure and fertilizer and use the straw around the plants as mulch to help conserve water and keep soil moist in the Summer as well as act as a resting place for berries as the grow to keep them clean and dry while they ripen.
Strawberry plants will produce well for about 5 years. At that point it is best to start new beds with new plants and remove and compost your existing plants.
That's it! Easy to grow , a delight to eat. Add strawberries to your garden plan and enjoy fresh home grown berries.