Monday, June 1, 2015


My strawberries this year are much smaller than last year. I believe fertilizing at the proper time will fix that for next harvest, but until then, the small berries are delicious to eat, if not a little more labor intensive.
When I posted about them on my Facebook page, I noticed that there was interest in growing them, even from people who didn't normally seem inclined towards food gardening before. With that in mind, I am going to share what I have learned about growing strawberries and hook you all up with a couple of places on the internet that I used for sources on growing them. My Sweet Charlie, that I got three years ago was the first time I tried strawberries. I have noticed, as I have gotten older, waiting a year for a good harvest isn't such a big deal. I have heard of people getting a harvest on first year plants, but my first year the blossoms were spare, so I nipped off the buds to redirect that energy towards establishing themselves. Boy, was I rewarded last year!
Other things that are in the works is a video series dealing with cooking from scratch. The point will be to really teach the basics, hopefully in the style of Julia Child. I think that a lot of the issues with people not cooking is that it seems so time consuming and complicated. It can be time consuming if you want to be very complex, but most real cooking was invented by women who did not have the time to spare either as they worked the farm and cared for children and, though many may not believe this, work for money too. Women have worked from the beginning of time, it wasn't until the mid 20th century that there was an expectation of women staying home with the kids.
So, the series will help people learn things like cutting up a chicken, how to make the "mother sauces" only five very simple sauces from which you can make any sauce simply with things you have on hand. There will be lessons on braising (the best way to use cheap, meat cuts if meat is your thing), how to cook vegetables and some down and dirty lessons on fast cooking from what is on hand in your home.
I have other things floating around as ideas for this blog, but they are not formed enough to discuss, but there are things in the works. Remember how I said that thing about patience? I am trying to learn to have some with myself too, as it takes me much longer to create here than I would like. Be patient with me please,

Strawberries 101

First and most importantly, choose your strawberries well. The strawberries you get at the grocery are often hard, and tasteless. This will also be true of your strawberries if you pick the same variety, which is grown for size and toughness. The one thing you really don't want your berries to be are "tough", they are delicate and that is why this time of year is eagerly awaited by my family as this is when the "real" berries come out, reminding us why, despite the heat, summer is one of the very best times of year.
Strawberries have two major types. One is "June bearing" which is exactly what it sounds like. The other consists of varieties that are "everbearing", which means that they do not give one large crop, but continuously bloom and produce as long as the weather is good. June bearers do flower out of their season, and it is up to you to allow it or not. I prefer to take off the blooms after the June crops have finished to help focus the plants attention on renewing itself (themselves) for the next year. This year I also planted a bunch of everbearers, but they are in their first year, so I am not expecting anything.
You also want a berry that is good for the climate you are in. The Sweet Charlie is good from zones 5-8, for those not understanding the zones, 8 is pretty much the coldest the US gets (outside of Alaska, poor Alaska, we never count you lol). I am in Zone 6a. "A" represents a "microclimate" large enough to be named within the zone. That means that while I have a cold night, often, just up the road, there is actual frost on the ground. This is important to know when protecting plants. I learned about the microclimates when researching why my rosemary always dies when left outside, even when sheltered. Zone 6 is the most cold a rosemary plant can handle, and then, only certain varieties living in certain microclimates survive our winters. This is information you want regarding your strawberries. Sweet Charlie has a lot of disease and pest resistance, and it one of the more popular varieties for the colder areas of the United States. If you are interested in the specifics, please refer to, and they have everything you would want to know about strawberries. What I put here is what I have learned so far, which isn't nearly as much as is on the site, but should be good as a "quick start" for someone wanting to give strawberries a try.
If you want a nice cold weather perennial garden, there are ways to grow strawberries in the same beds as Asparagus for a great Spring crop.

First Things First

Choose a place for your beds. There are many ways to grow strawberries, and I chose the easiest at the time for me, but not necessarily the best. I learned the hard way that I need to make use of the internet about everything I plant, because even though I grew up with gardens, there is still a lot I do not know.
You want one of the sunniest, most well drained spots in your yard. For me that meant growing in a mound. I planted six plants in two rows of three, well spaced apart. As they establish themselves, they throw out "runners" which have daughter plants (clones), which will take over if you do not keep an eye on them. This will matter in the finally configuration of your bed.
You want to dig down about six inches if you are making a traditional bed. Into that mix good amounts of compost that has been well rotted, or well rotted manure, or both. Strawberries like a nice rich soil, and compost is the best (and cheapest) way to achieve that. The plants can be spaced pretty far apart (up to two feet) and will fill in very quickly. If you want neat rows like you see at pick it yourself places, you will need to keep an eye on the runners and carefully lift and set into soil where you want them. If you have had spider plants, you should recognize this type of reproduction in plants.
Strawberries also needs lots of water. I mostly hand water, but as soon as my gutters are fixed, I will be putting in a barrel and hooking up a system of drip irrigation with that. Until then, I hand water. The first year they will not need any fertilizer if you prepared your beds, or rows, well.

Since they have shallow root systems, mulch is a must. Mulch will help keep water from evaporating into the air and drying out the bed, and will also help supress weeds as the strawberries establish themselves. I prefer to use straw or saltwater hay for this. Both will contribute to the soil as they rot away. Straw is probably best, but the bales are large and I would be using it for my other garden plants as well. If you do not have guaranteed snow cover in the winter, it is advisable to heap straw over them in the Fall to protect them from the frigid temperatures when there is no benefit of snow cover in the offerings.

Now What?

Now that you have chosen your site and configuration of the bed, dug in some compost and made sure the bed would be well drained, it is time to plant. I planted my bare root stock, which is how strawberries are usually sold, 2 feet apart in a rectangle configuration. If you look at this post again, you will see that they filled out amazingly, so if you are going for neat rows, make sure that the root stock are planted at least three feet from each other, leaving a nice 2 foot path in between to make upkeep a bit easier to do. I am kind of lucky in that my mound is separating naturally, so I don't feel so badly about stepping in the middle to pick the berries. This is how they looked the very first year after planting them in the fall after raking away the salt water hay I used to cover them for the winter.

Here is a photo of the second year:

And here we are this year

They yellowing and upturned leaves show that when this picture was taken the soil was dried out, and I believe they needed a little magnesium. It is probably best to test the soil for this, but I went ahead and gave them a nice Epsom Salts drink around this time. They were not covered the year before due to not having money to buy the straw or hay, and we did not mow them over in the fall as we did the year before. Both of these things will be remedied this year.

So, you can see that they spread very fast. Make sure you keep this in mind when picking out a spot. This year we included some every bearers into the mix. They are growing on the borders of my vegetable patch.

The defined border was created just by piling rocks around the area prepared for the strawberries. These will have to be watched carefully to keep them from taking over the rest of the garden. At least if they do run roughshod, I get some juicy jewels out of the deal. That is a take over I can get behind.

Another thing to strongly consider is how to protect your berries as they ripen. The red will attract fruit and seed eating birds, so I would suggest picking up some cheap netting to protect your beautiful fruits.

To Sum Up

1. Research and purchase the best strawberries for your climate and needs.
2. Choose a sunny, well drain site for your strawberry rootstock.
3.. Dig in compost or well aged manure into the beds, water well.
4. Plant strawberries at least 2 feet apart, water in well.
5. In the fall of the first year, cover high with straw until Spring.
6. In the first year, it is better to go without the berries and pick off the blossoms so that they become well established.
7. In the second year, mow well and cover with straw in the Fall before the first frost is best.
8. Don't forget to start thinking about how to protect them as they ripen.

My second year I picked over 20 pounds of strawberries from six plants (I planted seven, but one was dug up by the squirrels.

I hope that this helps people looking to grow strawberries. I advise really researching anything you want to grow before purchasing seeds or plants. This is a suggestion based on my own experiences, I wish I had been more thorough the first year with my plantings, fortunately there were not huge losses, but lessons were learned.

Another site that I use to get information on specific plants is: Garden.Org which has planting guides and helpful articles regarding a number of plants and is an excellent jumping off point to begin your research. I also use this Garden Planner which you can try free the first year. If you choose to continue, you will be able to use your old plans in the next year to help plan around a rotation. The plans will flash red in places that a specific plant should not be grown that year. Totally worth the subscription, especially if you make use of the videos they made. 

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