Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Strawberry Time

Local Food Report
We continue to have a dearth of local vegetables. Checking Three Rivers Market this week revealed NO local produce at all. Fortunately, we still have local and regional eggs, milk, cheese and cured meats.

Our greenhouse is now yielding spinach, kale, mache, lettuce, scallions, parsley and cilantro. Why are no commercial growers supplying this niche? Maybe next year....

Strawberry foliage can be decorative, too!
Now is the time to think about starting a strawberry patch. Strawberries are one of the easiest fruit crops for home gardens, and there is a variety for every location and need. Good selections for this area include Surecrop, Tristar and Sequoia. You can purchase bare root plants or containers. Bare root plants should soon be appearing in garden centers as they are best planted in late February or early March. Container plants will arrive later, and are a better choice for the novice gardener.

Plant all strawberries so that the crown (the point at which the roots and stems meet) is just at the soil level. Planting them too deep will prevent proper growth and may lead to a crop failure. Planting too shallow will allow roots to dry out and possibly kill the plants. If planting from containers, simply set the plants at the same level they were growing.

Strawberries require full sun and slightly acidic soil that has been enriched with organic matter. They need plenty of water during the early part of the season, then drier conditions as fruit is forming. Too much water when fruit is colored up leads to poor flavors.

Do not plant strawberries in soil that has grown any member of the potato family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or potatoes) for the past five years. These plants have many of the same diseases, and your strawberries may not do very well.

Strawberries are subject to numerous viral and fungal diseases. For this reason, a patch typically gives a good yield for about three years before it needs to be renewed. You can start new plants from runners and move them to a new location, or replace worn-out plants with new stock of a different variety. Container platns can be propagated from runners which can then be potted in fresh, sterile growing mix. This may sound like a lot of trouble, but the flavor of perfectly ripe strawberries is well worth it, in our view.

If you have limited space, consider the new Dutch strawberry varieties that are bred for container growing. They have names like Tristan, Loran and Merlan. Besides producing delicious fruit, these plants have glossy, dark green foliage and flowers in white, pink and hot pink. The flowers are much larger than those of other strawberries, about the size of a half dollar coin. The plants are quite decorative even when not bearing fruit. Best of all, they are day-neutral, meaning you will get a small crop all season, with peaks in spring and fall. During the first year, we recommend removing all blooms that appear before May 1. This helps the plant to establish roots, and will lead to a better crop later on.

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