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Probably the most popular small fruits for the home garden, strawberries are also among the hardest to grow organically. Strawberries have many insect pests and diseases that damage plants and berries alike. Establishing your planting in well-drained, fertile soil and maintaining a weed-free patch are essential for success.

You can choose among three kinds of strawberries, depending on when you want fruit. Consult your local extension office or nurseries for the best varieties for your area. Also see the "Surfing for small fruits" sidebar in this chapter.

  • June-bearing varieties produce one large crop of berries in late spring to early summer.
  • Everbearing varieties produce two smaller crops: one in early summer and another in early fall.
  • Day-neutral berries, the newest type, can produce fruit continuously throughout the growing season.

Strawberry planting and growing guide

Plant dormant, bare-root strawberry plants 18 to 24 inches apart in 3- to 6-inch-high, 3- to 4-foot-wide raised beds. Set the plants so that soil covers the roots but the crown remains above the soil, as shown in Figure 15-3. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Pinch off all flowers until midsummer for the first season to encourage strong root and top growth.

The plants that you set out are called the mother plants. They send out runners that take root and develop new daughter plants in mid- to late summer. Space the daughter plants evenly around the mothers to give each plant plenty of space to grow. Daughter plants flower and fruit the year after they grow. In the second summer, you can remove the original mother plants to make room for new daughter plants. Another method is to rotary-till the sides of the bed in midsummer of the second or third year, leaving plants only in the 18- to 24-inch-wide center strip. Train new daughter plants into the tilled soil.

Plan to replace your strawberry planting every three to five years. Cover the planting with straw mulch after the ground freezes in cold-winter climates, and remove the mulch as the weather warms in spring.

Figure 15-3:

Plant strawberry plants so that the crowns are just above the soil.

Figure 15-3:

Plant strawberry plants so that the crowns are just above the soil.

Diseases and insect pests that prey on strawberries

One of the most serious insect pests that affect strawberries is the tarnished plant bug, which can severely damage the developing fruit. These insects spend the winter in plant debris and live on weeds in and around your yard. Covering the strawberry plants in the fall with a floating row cover can offer some, but not complete, protection from the bugs in the following spring and early summer. Early-ripening varieties often suffer less damage than late-season berries.

The strawberry clipper or bud weevil is another significant pest in some areas. These insects fly into the planting from neighboring woodlots and hedgerows about the time that the flower buds swell. Adults destroy the developing buds by laying eggs in them. Many other insects, slugs, mites, and nematodes attack strawberry fruits and plants, reducing vigor and production, and introducing disease. Birds and ground squirrels also take their share.

Strawberries are subject to many fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases. Fungal infections include leaf spot, leaf scorch, leaf blight, powdery mildew, red stele, verticillium wilt, root rot, and several berry rots. Buy only virus-free plants from a reputable nursery, and avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, eggplants, or potatoes previously grew to prevent wilt diseases. See Part III for more control strategies.

Surfing for small fruits

The Internet offers a wealth of information about any topic that you care to know about (and some topics that you don't), and small fruits are no exception. Government- and university-sponsored sites feature advice and instructions, as well as links to other related sites. Commercial mail-order nurseries sell their plants and offer online planting and care guides that help ensure your success. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview
  • a href=""> fruitover.html): Funded by the U.S. government, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA for short) has an excellent Web page with advice on establishing a small fruit patch for home use or commercial-size production. The site provides lots of good links and cultural instructions for specific crops, too.
  • Nourse Farms (www.noursefarms. com): Nourse Farms offers a good assortment of small fruits and perennial vegetables. I drove by this large and well-established nursery frequently while attending college in western Massachusetts. You can also write to the company at 41 River Road, South Deerfield, MA 01373 or reach them by phone at 413-665-2658.
  • Raintree Nursery (www.raintree Raintree Nursery specializes in fruits for the Pacific Northwest. You can also write to the company at 391 Butts Road, Morton, WA 98356 or call 360-496-6400.
  • Indiana Berry & Plant Co. (www.indiana Indiana Berry & Plant Co. offers a wide variety of small fruits as well as planting and care guides on its Web site. Write the company at 5218 W. 500 S., Huntingburg, IN 47542 or you can reach them by phone at 800-295-2226.

✓ Edible Landscaping Online (www. Edible Landscaping offers in-depth care guides as well as many fruit and nut plants. Write the company at 361 Spirit Ridge Lane, Afton, VA 22920 or call 800-524-4156.

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