SUCCULENT SWEET STRAWBERRIES
By The Garden Gal
European palates had to await the discovery of America to revel in the flavor of the wild Virginia strawberry. 300 years later some unknown cook combined strawberries, sugar, and cream which became the luxury dessert of the 19th century. Those gigantic “Mexican” strawberries we buy from the grocery stores come from June Bearing descendants of the humble wild Virginia originals.
I started my strawberry patch by accident after tossing scraps from cleaned fruit into my compost heap then later spreading my unfinished compost around the garden. By spring strawberry plants sprouted willy-nilly.
Transplant strawberry plants,“crowns,” in bundles of 4-5 plants about 12” apart in orderly rows. By summer’s end mine spread out of control over half of one garden bed. June Bearing plants are the rabbits of the strawberry world!
You can purchase year old strawberry plants from most garden suppliers, but be prepared to put out some money. You need a lot of plants to get a quart of strawberries in one cutting.
Some varieties put out few runners so consider the cost of replenishing your stock which will produce with varying degrees of vigor for 4-5 years.
Strawberries like north Texas’ full summer sun, but their roots like air conditioning, so mulching is a must. Bermuda grass invades my garden yearly so I lay the culprit out to die in the sun and wind then wrap it around my strawberry plants like thorny crowns, which pill bugs don’t like, incidentally.
Strawberries like 1-2 inches of water a day during their season, so plant smart by mixing LOTS of organic matter--compost or well rotted (no smell) manure--in the soil under the mulch.
Professionals recommend rows 3-4 feet apart. I planted mine about 18” apart which gave me room to crow hop, sheet compost, and raise green onions in the ditch between rows.
Consider planting peas and beans between strawberry rows too.
Mulch does two things for strawberry plants, (a) it cools the ground around the roots, and (b) it keeps the berries off the damp soil while they ripen to that succulent ruby red color that calls out, “Pick me!”
To keep the number of June Bearing plants under control, and to encourage fruiting, cut off the runners at their base once a week all summer. Any scissors will work. Throw the runners in the compost heap.
In the autumn let one set of new runners form and root into small plants to replenish your stock the next spring. If you want more plants, save more runners. It’s okay to position the tip of a runner to root where you want it to grow. New plants, rooted or not, transplant with ease as long as you keep the soil wet.
A word to the wise: strawberries turn sweet when they turn red. Pink berries are not sweet berries so resist the urge to pick them too early.
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