Tip of the Week: For the Love of Organic Strawberries – Part 1

Whether you choose early-, mid- or late-season June-bearers, the smaller but more frequent everbearers, or the young upstart day-neutrals, a freshly picked, perfectly ripened homegrown strawberry does not exist in the same galaxy as its cardboard cutout, dry-as-sawdust store-bought brethren, let alone on the same planet.

Here are some tips on how you can grow the biggest, most juicy and flavorful strawberries ever—without using harmful pesticides or other chemicals!

When I read a few years ago that conventionally grown strawberries retained more toxic pesticide residues than just about any other fruit, I knew I had to start growing my own—because I loooooove strawberries. With the cost of organic strawberries—in season—hovering around $3/pint (I can’t even imagine what they cost now), I was eating a lot of pesticide-residue-riddled berries.

Not anymore.

The 3S’s: Sun, Soil and Regular Sousing
Although strawberries are easy to grow, these highly versatile nectars of the gardening gods require an abundance of the basic elements of photosynthetic life: lots of sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day), slightly acidic soil (between 5.5 and 6.5 pH, according to eHow.com) that is rich in organic matter and allows for good drainage, and about an inch of water per week—especially when the fruit is developing.

I’ve also read that, when choosing where to put the patch, to be careful to avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants or raspberries have been grown for the past several years. These plants can harbor verticillium wilt, which is particularly hazardous to strawberries. Every university extension site I visited, with the exception of Ohio State’s, listed chemical solutions for treating this pervasive fungus. Based on what I’ve read, the best organic solution is prevention.

Good drainage is important because strawberries have shallow root systems. They need plenty of water for big, juicy berries but cannot abide sitting in standing water and will rot. Some experts recommend planting strawberries in hills or in raised beds loaded with lots of well-composted organic materials.

How I did it. Other than the advice not to plant strawberries where tomatoes had been, I didn’t really know any of this stuff when I first planted my strawberries. I picked a section of a dormant flower bed for my primary patch. The fall before planting I pulled up all the weeds and turned the soil, which had been sitting fallow for at least a year before I secured my patch at the community garden. The nun who had tended the garden of which my patch was only about a third was very ill and couldn’t keep up with her garden. She died the winter before I began leaving voicemails for Sister Rita, pestering her for a veggie patch of my own.

My first fall at the patch I dumped a couple of 40 lb bags of organic mushroom compost on the patch (my own newly established compost pile wasn’t “ripe” yet) and worked it lightly into the soil. And that was pretty much it.

Poor quality photo of my strawberry patch a couple of months after planting (July 2006).

Poor quality photo of my strawberry patch a couple of months after planting (July 2006).

Everbearing, June-bearing—or Day-neutral?
When it came time to actually pick out what type of strawberries I wanted to grow, I was faced with an overwhelming array of choices. Because I had spent a couple of summers and many, many weekends working for my dad on his organic farm in southwestern Michigan, I knew there were everbearing strawberries, which, under the right conditions, would produce throughout the growing season, and June-bearing strawberries, which, like the name implies, bear fruit just once per year in late spring to early summer.

What I didn’t know was that within each broad category were a number of different choices: For instance, June-bearers have early-, mid- and late-season varieties. I suppose an ambitious gardener—or a strawberry addict—could cultivate all three to keep fresh strawberries on the table for a couple of months rather than the typical 3-week production cycle.

Everbearers produce smaller berries a couple of times a year (spring and fall) and don’t shoot off as many runners (picture spider plant offshoots that, instead of dangling from a hanging basket, spread along the ground, and then start establishing new roots once far enough away from the mother plant) as June-bearers.

Then there’s a newer cultivar I knew nothing about called the day-neutral. According to the Purdue University Extension office’s Yard and Garden News Web page, day-neutrals are a true everbearer and can produce fruit throughout the growing season, as long as it doesn’t get too hot.

May 2007 - First full season and both patches (main patch is at the top right of photo) are robust and setting fruit!

May 2007 - First full season and both patches (main patch is at the top right of photo) are robust and setting fruit!

How I did it. Although the space allotted for my strawberry patch was pretty small (about 4’ x 4’) I decided to go with the June-bearers. Aesthetics are important to me; I wanted to grow big, juicy, luscious strawberries, not the puny (to me) everbearers my dad grew on his farm. I figured, so what if I could enjoy them fresh for only a few weeks? I could (and did) enjoy the frozen berries I put up for months!

By the third season I was very pleased with my choice. My strawberries, picked ripe, not green and spiny like the flavorless store-bought berries, rivaled what you could buy at Jewel or Safeway in size and had irresistibly incomparable flavor. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. I can’t wait for spring!

On the other hand, although day-neutrals can produce throughout the growing season, they practically have to be treated as annuals, which means you have to replant them every year.

Next week I will finish my ode to strawberries with tips on their planting and care that will assure you of the most delicious strawberries you have ever tasted.

Online Resources
About.com: How to Grow Organic Strawberries
eHow.com: How to Grow Organic Strawberries
Gardening-Guides.com: How to Grow Strawberries
Purdue University Extension: Preparing Strawberry Patch
RusticGirls.com: Grow Your Own Strawberries
University of Illinois Extension: Time to Plant Strawberries


9 Responses to “Tip of the Week: For the Love of Organic Strawberries – Part 1”

  1. 1 Deborah (Green Lasagna) February 5, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I’m growing strawberries for the first time this year, just a few in a small strawberry jar, and one already died, but I figure I can tuck a runner in there when the top one gets going. I’m trying just to feed them with compost tea made with horse manure, but we’ll see how that goes. If they don’t take off, I’ll buy some Organo.

  2. 2 Dan Eskelson February 5, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Phoebe,

    Good article – thanks for the information.

    We’ve grown the day neutrals for a few years now – our planting of day neutrals has actually lasted now into its fourth year in north Idaho. Production is large and lasts all season, though in our soil/climate, taste is not quite up to the quality you would expect from the best June bearer.

    I think our focus now will be to grow a main crop of June bearers (with lots of time alotted for picking/freezing), and continue to grow a smaller amount of the day neutrals to have fresh eating throughout the season.

    Thanks again for your good article!

  3. 3 Martin February 5, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    It’s planting time here (North Africa) already but I can’t decide if my teeny patch is going to get enough sun.

  4. 4 Phoebe King February 5, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    That sounds like a great plan! Someday I will have that kind of space for strawberries. My dad turned 1/2 of what was once my horse’s pasture (when I was 13) into the strawberry field – about 1/2 acre. How much space do you allot to your strawberry patch?

    I think it’s great news that your day-neutrals have lasted 4 years! Has the size or quantity diminished? Are you doing anything special fertilizer-wise? Do you mulch?

  5. 5 Phoebe King February 5, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Where in North Africa are you? Do you have pictures of your garden? Did you know you can plant strawberries in special planters? It’s like a hanging basket! Here’s a link with awesome pictures! http://www.growpots.com/photo_gallery.html Good luck to you.

  6. 6 Dan Eskelson February 5, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Yes, quantity has diminished, as we had been told, so likely we will plant another, smaller patch. Original was a bed 3′ x 40′ – lots of berries. Surprisingly, this last year, though quantity was down, size of berries was larger! Go figure.

  7. 7 seguro auto March 31, 2011 at 3:06 am

    Magnificent post and a nice manual effortless to examine for positive. please share much more of these quality.

  8. 8 living January 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Right here is the perfect web site for anybody who wants to understand this topic.
    You realize a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really
    would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a
    subject which has been discussed for a long time. Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

  1. 1 Cover Outdoor Strawberries « Gardora.net Trackback on February 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What Flower Are You?

Follow Me on Twitter

RSS Mother Earth News

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
Support the Department of Peace banner- 150w
Add to Technorati Favorites
February 2009
« Jan   Mar »

%d bloggers like this: