Growing and Caring for Organic Strawberries

Store-bought strawberries: they’re not cheap, especially the organic ones, and they’re often not very good. Both those attributes are related to the fact that strawberries are among the most perishable of produce. It’s a fruit that should be picked when perfectly ripe—meaning the fruit is soft and aromatic—but a perfectly ripe strawberry becomes a rotten strawberry very quickly when placed in a plastic clamshell and shipped around the country. Hence the half-ripe berries, stiff and bland, that you find at the supermarket.

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Strawberries have a reputation of being difficult to grow, especially organically, though that's only true if you don't know the tricks. Their beauty is that they are perennial: plant them once, and they produce year after year-for at least a few years, anyways. Your original "mother" plants will produce many "daughters," so once you have a bed established, you never need to buy more.

Sourcing Strawberry Plants

It is possible to grow strawberries from seed, but few people do because germination is poor and it takes a couple years for the plants to get up to size and start producing fruit. Potted strawberries are often available in nurseries, though this, too, has a drawback: molded in the shape of the pot, the roots don't spread out laterally after being plunked in the ground, which is how these shallow-rooted plants grow best.

However, give that it's already July, that may be your best option. But keep this in mind for next season: The best way to start strawberries is "bare root"-that is without soil, while dormant. This means planting them in late winter, which gives them ample time to get established before hot weather hits. You'll find that bare root strawberry plants are much cheaper than potted ones. If your local nursery doesn't stock them, plenty of online nurseries would be happy to ship some to you. The recommended planting window is approximately 4 to 6 weeks before the average date of last frost in your area.

Where to Plant Them

Choose a site with a minimum of six hours of direct sun. One key to growing strawberries successfully is well-drained soil. An easy way to achieve this is to grow them in pots or raised wooden beds. If you are growing them in the ground, till a two-inch layer of compost into the soil and sculpt it into raised planting mounds to ensure adequate drainage.

How to Plant Them

Bare root strawberry plants consist of a small root "crown" at the top-this where the leaves will emerge-with hair-like roots dangling below. Dig a hole as deep as the roots are long, then form a cone of soil inside the hole. Splay the roots evenly around the cone and cover them with soil, filling the hole; the base of the crown should be even with the surrounding soil level. It's very important to not bury the crown, as this will lead to fungal problems. Plant them 18 to 24 inches apart.

Potted strawberry plants require about 2 gallons of soil. They are an excellent candidate for hanging baskets, as the "daughter" plants, attached to their mother with runners (little vines), will cascade gracefully over the edges. There are even special strawberry planters designed for the purpose.

See full article: Modern Farmer

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