I've received numerous inquiries this year about our strawberries. It was a good year for our berries and we brought in an admirable crop- nearly 25 pounds!! I was amazed over and over again each harvest day. After all, these same berries only gave us 5 pounds last year.
For any of you who are just as impressed with these yields as we are and might be feeling discouraged about your own berry patch, allow me help you rally: This is our third overall and first successful attempt! And it took this patch three seasons in the ground to get it right!
The first two attempts were done in the garden when my garden ambitions were much smaller. Way back in the days when I never even would consider getting a chicken and if you would tell me that in a few short years we would be milking a cow and pining over not having piglets yet this year, I would have laughed right in your face.
Both early attempts at strawberries were done with everbearing varieties. The first group of 25 and maybe 4 plants survived to the second season where harvesting fruit was possible. The second group lived to just outside their warranty and over the winter vanished from the face of the earth.
When we bought the current group of berries, I chose an offering of two types of June-bearing, Annapolis & Jewel; and one type of everbearing, Ozark Beauty.
At the time, my husband tilled up three rows, one for each variety, hilling the rows up into a mound. Each row was covered with black fabric.
(I would not use the fabric again now that I understand a little more about the benefits of soil health on your produce and how the fabric inhibits all of the proper biological processes from taking place. Besides, what weeds do push through, the fabric makes them more difficult to pull in my opinion. If you're going to choose a mulch, why not select one that improves water retention in the soil and composts improving the soil health?)
The plan was to leave the sod growing between each row so that only the rows themselves would need to be weeded and not all the space between. As the one who ended up bearing the primary responsibility for the care of the patch, I found the system to be incredibly troublesome for so little reward. The fabric kept the soil dry, weeds were troublesome to pull, and I thought the proximity of the grass encouraged the slug population.
During that first year, a third of the berries died (Ozark Beauty) and the company honored their guarantee, but had to replace with one of the June-bearing varieties because of stocking issues at the time. A circumstance that pleases me greatly now that I know what I know.
Here and there if a plant would die, I would cut off a runner from elsewhere and replace it which has helped the patch to stay pretty close to it's original size. All in all, I would guess we probably have about 60 plants now.
This year, as a result of my irritation with the design, I've been laying down newspaper and cardboard as I acquire it down on top of the sod to kill it and then I've been hay mulching on top of that. I'm carrying the plan right on over into the grapes because 3/5 vines have fallen victim to the weed-whacker's string.
I think that doing this will help with weeding since the sod won't be continually trying to encroach on the berries boundaries and I hope it will be easier to identify and transplant runners as we build our patch.
Another change made this year was with the addition of tulle row cover to protect the ripening berries from chipmunks, birds, and escapee barnyard poultry. We cut off 3" bits of left over high tensile wire from installing the pasture fence and bent them to use as stakes, tacking the tulle to the ground. I thought it worked beautifully! The only invasion came in the form of slugs and we're thinking of ways to encourage ducks to inhabit the orchard providing us with year round eggs while dining on slugs, emerging Japanese beetle larvae, and the like. (Did you know ducks lay more than chickens, some more than 300 eggs per year AND will lay for 5 years instead of 2-3?? We're adding 5 to the homestead today!)
Observations over the last few years have shown that the June-bearing varieties are not only hardier (there are only 2/25 of them left), but they are much, much more fruitful with the Ozark Beauty offering only a berry here and there.
As of right now, I'm spraying the plants and soil with liquid fish emulsion three times a year for fertilizer- once in early spring, once after bearing, and once in the fall. I'm (still) soaking up the knowledge found in The Holistic Orchard and haven't gotten to the chapter on berries. If reading it is anything like the rest of the book, it will no doubt revolutionize the entire way I think about our berry patch and I'll need to be drafting an addendum to this post. (edit: proof that I don't skip to the end of books first- the berry chapter doesn't cover strawberries but has some excellent information about other types of berries)
So I think that just about covers everything we're doing & planning to do with the strawberries at this time. I hope that my lack of real planning encourages you that a wonderful crop of homegrown berries is within your reach!
I'd love to hear any tips or tricks you all have and could share with us to ensure our continuing success!