Photo by Jessica Wallier
I was looking forward to our "usual" strawberry harvest (pictured), not the lousy harvest we received this year.
Our strawberries were lousy this year. The fruits were puny, bland, and few and far between. I couldn't even harvest enough to make a single batch of strawberry jam—and I know why: Our strawberry patch needs a makeover.
Although they’re probably the easiest to grow of all the small fruits, strawberries definitely benefit from a plot-rejuvenation every few years. Even if you let the runners run, they tend to "peter out" after four or five years and production drops dramatically. This fall or next spring, I need to dig up all the plants, toss out the older ones and replant the young runners in some refreshed soil. I’ll work some compost into the bed and break up the hardpan before replanting them.
If you're new to strawberries, you really should give them a try. Be sure to choose a location with a minimum of 6 hours of full sun and work a few shovels of compost into the planting area before spacing the plants about 8 inches apart.
Strawberry varieties fit into two different categories: June-bearing or ever-bearing (also called day-neutral). June-bearing strawberries produces berries that all ripen within a period of a few weeks in, you guessed it, June. These varieties are great for jelly and jam makers because they’re all ripe at once. My favorite varieties include Benton, Shuksan, Surecrop and Allstar.
Ever-bearing strawberries, on the other hand, spread a more moderate harvest throughout the gardening season, beginning in June and continuing through late September. These selections (including TriStar, Seascape, and Albion) are perfect for families looking to have a handful of berries everyday.
One end of my strawberry patch has June-bearing varieties and the other side has ever-bearing varieties. That way, I have enough to make jam in June, but I also have a few berries for my cereal the entire summer.
When planting strawberries, pinch off the flowers for the first season to encourage good root growth. Although I don't do it myself, many experts suggest light mulching with 1 to 2 inches of straw to help see the plants through the winter and to keep the ripening fruits off the ground.
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