Thursday, February 25, 2010

How To Grow Strawberries

Hi Folks!
Thinking about planting strawberries this year? Me too! Jonnsons Garden Center here in Wichita just sent me their monthly newsletter - on real paper (no e-mail for them) and are saying to get ready to Plant Strawberries around the Middle of March in our South Central Kansas Area. We are in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6b. That means you have about 2 weeks or 3 weeks before planting time Here - and a little more time if you live in a colder zone. Usually strawberries go fast at the nurseries so don't dilly dally if you want to get some "sets" in this year.

It's been years since I've grown home grown strawberries. I remember when my mother asked me to dig up the ground on the side of our garage on our Western Kansas farm, so we could plant a decent sized patch of "Everbearing" Strawberries from Henry Fields that the mailman had just dropped off down the road apiece. Did I get out a garden spade or fork from Dad's collectionsd of digging tools in the back corner of the garage? Nope. Even as a 15 year old, I knew I would need something a little more heavy duty. I grabbed a "sharp shooter" and a Pick-Ax. One to crack open the hard soil and the other to jump-up on to cut through  several inches of badly compacted soil.

My big brother sometimes parked Dad's Massy Harris tractor here just long enough to catch a noon "dinner" and a nap before going out in the field again. After my brother left home, I usually got the job of occassional field work but I never could make a straight furrow! My Dad just loaned me out for hire to the neighbors - some were pretty desperate for a dependable hired hand. I was dependable. I just wasn't very good at tractor work! I managed to do well enough to buy my first car at 16. A wonderful 1953 Oldsmobile Rocket. How I loved that great big green Tank! It originally was a race car. Done 95 in a quarter. We had a favorite hill just North of town to test our cars on that year. Very dangerous. But we did it anyway. We weren't perfect Then either!

Anyway, I got the Strawberries planted in Moms little plot. They grew pretty well too - even if my Dad had  (on occassion) used the area to set-up a Briggs and Stratton powered portable cement mixer along side a pile of course sand and several sacks of powdery gray cement. And splashed a little around on the ground sometimes. My Dad done all his own remodeling with some help from neighboring farmers and friends.

I was 6 when my  Dad bought some land with an old gray unpainted house once owned by a retired bootlegger who shall remain unnamed. My Dad and the neighbors completely remodeled it outside and in. Lowered the roof. New shingles, New Chimney, Stucco, Windows, Basement (for Tornadoes). Everything. Right down to sanding the old wood living room floor where a ring of cigarette burns marked where the bootlegger and his friends held "Craps'" games every Saturday night and casually stumped out their cigarettes. I guess ashtrays were scarace or he never had enough for all his "friends". Long afterwards, us kids would find old dried out fruit jars that once held homemade "hooch",  buried in the side of the creek bed  down a ways from the original location of the house. I think my Mother insisted Dad should move the house up on the Other side of the hill. Which he did. So that brings us back to the strawberry bed... Would you believe? I like a good story...

Strawberries like "Sandy Soil". It provides good drainage. I'm not sure about the ocassionally large pebbles that got strewn around with the cement dust on the remodeling work in my mothers Strawberry Bed. It sure made for hard digging! However, the accidental sand left after the work was great for keeping the strawberries well drained.

Strawberries also like lots of water. I carried several milk buckets of water to them every day - until Dad decided to get Up Town and buy a rubber hose! I'm not sure how we prepared the strawberry bed for winter or even if we did, but one of the best ways to do it is to pile about a foot or two of straw over them in the late fall, then carefully pull it away from each plant in the spring. Otherwise, they will probably all freeze out when it gets 5 or 10 below next winter. Especially in North West Kansas where I grew up! It's not called "Little Siberia" for nothing!
Watering and Planting Strawberries

Pick a cloudy day if you can to prevent withering of the plants. "Water in" your plants right after planting them. Soaker Hoses are good for gentle, deep watering - and save you money in the long run. Your strawberry bed should be deep watered at least once a week. The equivalent of 1 to 2 inches of rain a week is best. Never let them dry out. But be careful. Frequent standing water will cause the plants to rot. Best time to water? Early morning which gives the plants time to dry off before evening. Otherwise they can succumb to Mildew and Fungus'.

Be sure to mulch your strawberries plants with Straw or Pine Needles. If you have a pine tree in the front yard, you have plenty of those! Strawberries as well as most acid living garden vegetables, like the acid pine needles produce in the soil. Mulches such as these keeps the soil cool, keeps moisture in and and protect the berries from picking up dirt and mud. After the last harvest, cover the plants over (before the first frost in the Fall) to protect them from freezing out in the deep of Winter. The colder your area, the deeper the mulch should be. It might be from a few inches to a foot or two in the far Northern areas of the US.
I Repeat
Remember, Mulching is essential for strawberry plants because it keeps the soil cool, controls weeds, retains moisture and keeps the strawberries from laying on the bare soil and rotting. And keeps them from freezing out in the Winter. If you want a Good crop of Strawberries - ya' gotta' mulch!

Place the mulch in the rows between the plants when you plant them.  I don't like Wood Chips because they sometimes support a crop of Toad Stools, especially in the Spring. And they take forever to break down as do dry uncomposted leaves. The mulch should be removed from the plants in the spring. Just gently pull it back from the strawberry plants back onto the rows between.

Cloning Strawberries

To make new "starts" to enlarge the bed, or give to friends and neighbors, get several 6 -inch lengths of clothes hanger wire or such, and make a hairpin shape out of them. Pin down a runner in several places in the soil (about every 6 to 8 inches). Pile a little soil on top of the pinned area. Keep watered. The best time is usually in the spring or fall.

In a few weeks you will be able to cut the rooted sections apart with no harm to the "mother" plant. You have just produced a "clone" - without the laboratory!

It is my understanding that a similar process is done to reproduce Hybrid and Open Pollinated Tomatoes, over and over, every year. I was amazed when I first learned this. Tomato "cuttings" are made from the Parent plant and rooted in a light soil mix. In a kind of  "Topiary" or Bell Jar environment. I suppose a ceramic pot and an old fruit jar would work just as well if you kept the cutting damp with a little misting and gave it fresh air for an hour or so a day and in half-light out of direct sun. I have never tried it to see how that would work out but I suspect it would. Let me know if you try it.

 A note here. Selling Hybrid clones without being licensed by the original growers could get you in big trouble.  Don't try it.

Three Types of Strawberries

June Berries - Bear heavy in June for 2 or 3 weeks

Everbearing - Pick in June and throughout the summer.

Day-Neutral - Same as Everbearing

So, better hurry down to your local nursery to get some of those Strawberry sets if your in South Central Kansas. A little later if your further North, Strawberries should be planted just after the last hard freeze in the spring. Late April is usually OK. Late May or June is getting a little late. Strawberries do not love Hot weather.  Expect the first year to have sparce production. The second year will be a good producing year for you if they have been well established the year before. 

Support Your Local Nursery

Here in the Wichita area, I like Dutches on South Seneca. They are close to me and they're nice people too! I keep asking them when they are going to have a sale on their plants. I'm so cheap! They see me coming. I keep trying. They always tell me "Never" - because they always have great prices on their stuff.  And they Do! They always have a Big Selection of healthy plants and Tons of garden accessories, soil supplements and even cute little garden designs for the ladies! I find their people very knowledgable.

So check out your local plant nursery. Chances are their prices are just as good as the Big Box store. And you can't beat the quality and service! Warning! Big Box stores will set their plants out very early. That does not mean you should plant them when you buy them. At least in the first of the season. You plants may either die from the cold or be stunted and wont show any growth for weeks.  Actually being set back several weeks! This is especially true for warm weather plants such as Tomatoes and Peppers.

So visit your local Plant Nursery. You'll be glad you did!

Tell 'em GrandBob sent you.

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