In the first part of this series I told you of some minor changes we made that were part of our tremendous success. They really didn’t require any extra effort and weren’t the most important factors, in my opinion.  Here is where the work comes in and what makes the payoff.

If we take a look at what commercial strawberry operations do for maximum yield, we can get some idea of the direction to take and what to discard.  Basically they treat Strawberries as an annual crop, sterilizing the soil with methyl bromide (now outlawed in the US) or another fumigant and replanting in the same spot. This leaves a dead soil and is nothing really any different than hydroponics when you think about it. The soils only purpose is to hold the roots. All nutrients are supplied in a liquid form via drip irrigation.  We will go a different route on these ideas. We want a healthy soil where the nutrients are derived from the “soil food web” and we want our crop to produce for a few years before replanting.  They then plant in plastic which does several good things. It eliminates weeds and the competition from them (invasive grasses being the worst).  It keeps a consistent moisture level which is beneficial. It helps warm the soil earlier which gives faster and larger plant growth. It does not allow runners to develop or take hold.  Organic certification does not allow the use of plastic for more than a single growing season and it must be removed.  If we were not certified organic, I definitely would use plastic.  We will have to resort to manual weed removal and manual runner elimination to achieve the desired results.

Day Neutral Strawberries

Getting More from Less –  When planting day neutral strawberries you want to get them into the ground before April 15th.  This will give sufficient time to be large enough to crop the same year.  They should be planted about one foot apart and no closer than 9” apart.  Up until July 1st of the planting  year you want to remove all runners and blossoms as soon as they appear.  In my opinion this is the most important factor in growing good tasting, large strawberries. It must be done at least weekly or it can get away from you.  While the idea of free plants from runners is appealing it is really penny wise and pound foolish.  If the “mother” plant is allowed to produce runners it goes into a vegetative reproduction mode.  If the runners are removed then all energy goes into the “mother” plant and then the fruit.  Also plants with runners eliminated seem to often make double or triple crowns.  These  extra crowns produce as much as 2 or 3 plants, so you gain by removing runners.  Luckily Day-Neutrals do not produce as many runners as June bearing so it really isn’t that hard to keep up on.  After July 1st go ahead and allow them to flower and expect to start getting fruit about a month later.  As you are picking fruit at least weekly keep the runners pinched off.  Generally 50 – 75 plants should give you all the fresh eating strawberries you could want for a family of 4.  The next year they will start fruiting in the spring and continue all year. You can allow them to do so. Also at this point you will allow some runners to develop so you can work replacement plants into you plan.

Junebearing Strawberries – These will be treated as above except for the whole first year.  It is best to allow no fruit and very little runner production the first year to maximize the “mother” plant size.  If desired and for economics you can plant on 2 foot centers and allow 1 runner per plant to fill in the row. 

The drawback to Junebearers is they produce huge quantities of runners which must be diligently pinched or snipped off.  The benefit is one huge crop lasting for 2-3 weeks in early summer.  If you are serious about canning or putting them up this is a great way to go as the crop comes all at once.  However after the harvest it is human nature to get busy and let the runners get away from you.  You will soon end up with a matted mess of smaller, and less productive plants.  We find if we are picking each week it is easy to keep down the runners as we pick fruit and for that reason I would rather just grow the day-neutrals.  We are however growing both to see how much we can get for jam, preserves, freezing etc.

At this point in our experimentation we have found the best producing and tasting day neutral is SeaScape. We also tried Albion, a newer commercial replacement for SeaScape but found that it did not grow or produce nearly as well, was more sensitive to soil ph / Iron Chlorosis and had a slightly more tart flavor

For Junebearing we planted both Honeyoye and Sparkle and there is no comparison.  Honeyoye produced big, green healthy plants, while we struggled with severe Iron deficiency issues with Sparkle for most of the season.  Also Honeyoye grew large and dense enough to shade out and suppress most weeds by the end of the season.  We expect next spring’s crop from Sparkle to be severely diminished but we will have to wait and see and then report our findings.