Plant of the week: Strawberries

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Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and phytochemicals, and they contain calcium, fibre, iron, potassium, and many other essential vitamins.  You can grow them in your garden, in containers on your deck or in your home, and you can even grow them upside down!  Strawberry plants are not grown from seeds, but from juvenile plants, called runners or sucker shoots, which start life as offshoots of their parent plant (similar to how spider plants propagate).

Ideal growing conditions

Strawberries require full sun and rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8 (slightly acidic).  You can use pine needle mulch to increase the acidity of your soil, or, if your soil is naturally alkaline, you can grow your strawberries in containers filled with potting soil.  In the ground, space them about 18 inches apart, with the roots in the soil, but the central crown exposed.  If you bury the crown, the plant may rot.

Strawberries have shallow roots so they are difficult to weed, but mulching them with a thick layer of fine straw will help to keep the weeds down.  Strawberries send out many runners, which use up much of the plant’s resources that could otherwise be devoted to the production of fruit.  Allow three runners per plant to mature enough so that you can transplant them to a new location.  Pinch off the rest as soon as they start.

Plants typically thrive for a maximum of five years, which is why it is great that they produce their own suckers to replace them.

Types

  • June-bearing varieties produce all of their berries within a three week period.  You can choose from early, mid-, or late varieties, and they’ll produce in early, mid-, or late June (with variances depending on your specific climate).  They don’t produce fruit until their second season.
  • Ever-bearing strawberries produce large crops in the spring and fall, and smaller crops in-between.  They produce fruit the first season and onward, although not in as large of quantities as June-bearing varieties.
  • Day-neutral varieties produce decent crops of berries from spring until fall, but save their biggest crop from the fall. The plants are small but heavy producers.  These varieties don’t do well in the hot sun.  They produce fruit the first season and onward.
  • Alpine strawberries are, unlike the other varieties, grown from seed.  They are tasty, but small–about the size of wild strawberries.

Preserving strawberries

Pick strawberries in the morning, when the fruit is cool, and put them in the fridge. Don’t wash them until you are ready to use them.  You can freeze them individually, on a cookie sheet, and then later toss them into freezer bags, so they don’t freeze together in a big lump.  They’re also great in jam.  Many freezer jam recipes use less sugar than conventional bottled jams.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Borage
  • Caraway

Foes

  • Brassicas
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Birds – you may need to use floating row covers to protect your harvest.

Fun facts

  • Strawberries are the only fruits that wear their seeds on the outside, but what look like seeds are actually a type of dry fruit, called achenes.  These contain the actual seeds!
  • Strawberries are members of the rose family.

 

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