Strawberry blossoms

Strawberry flowers bloom in spring; the fruit begins ripening in early summer.

As far back as I can remember, strawberries have been part of my family’s traditions. My grandparents grew a large patch of strawberries to help supplement their income. Grampa peddled the brimming wooden baskets of fruit door-to-door. Other customers stopped by the house and left their payment in the cigar box on the front porch. Family members with June birthdays could count on receiving a basket of strawberries as a gift. Those born later in the year often got jars of strawberry jam instead.

This year I decided to carry on the tradition and started a strawberry patch at home. Choosing which of the dozens of varieties to grow was a challenge. Gramma grew the June-bearing types that ripen all their fruit within two or three weeks in early summer. We decided that spreading out the harvest over several months works better for our family, so we chose the day-neutral, ever-bearing variety, Seascape.

I purchased a bundle of twenty-five dormant plants in March and set them out as soon as we could get into our garden. Strawberries are a perennial crop, so soil preparation is important. We tilled in several inches of compost and mounded up the soil into a flat-topped, 6″ high by 2′ wide raised bed to ensure good drainage.

I trimmed all but two or three leaves from each plant and set them about 15 inches apart in a staggered double row that looks like connected W’s: WWW. It’s important to plant the crown so that where the topmost root joins the plant is just at soil level. To allow the plants to establish strong roots, I’m pinching off all the flower clusters and runners until July 1. A couple of inches of straw mulch keeps the weeds to a minimum. The runners or daughter plants that grow this summer will produce next summer’s fruit crop. As they grow, I space the runners evenly throughout the row and use a little soil or a stone to hold them in place.

Ripe strawberries

Juicy, fragrant, ripe strawberries are the stars of summer festivals and picnics.

Birds, chipmunks, and slugs like strawberries just as much as I do. I know from experience that protection will be necessary. The Slug Magic pellets that I use around my hostas work for strawberries, too. As for the birds and four-footed pests, a net-covered hoop tunnel is just the ticket. As an added bonus, the insect netting keeps out tarnished plant bugs that damage the fruit.

We should see our first harvest in late summer this year, just in time to add the big, juicy berries to the ripening peaches, raspberries, and blueberries for homegrown fruit salads and cereal toppings. Next year the harvest will start in June and last until fall. That’s a lot of pleasure from a small investment in time and space. As I anticipate those first fragrant berries, I can understand why my grandparents were the most popular folks in their neighborhood. I hope my little patch will produce enough to share!

For more information about growing fruits and berries in the home garden read these articles:

-Ann Whitman, Horticulturist