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Strawberries

 
master steward
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Howdy! My first post here, just recently discovered permies forum. What a great place full of helpful people and quality knowledge! I've been gardening for 25 years, organic for almost 10, in raised beds for the last 6 and just recently jumped into biodynamic with both feet. I'm gobbling up books and have got a long way to go as I put into practice what I learn. My wife and I have a suburban homestead of sorts (19 raised beds, blueberry bushes, raspberry canes, fruit trees, backyard chickens and compost piles) as we work towards a goal of a more traditional homestead with many acres, piggers and cattles and such. I'm getting off topic here, on to strawberries.

This will be my first year growing strawberries. I planted approximately 50 strawberry crowns in 4x24ft raised bed last november. The weather was very mild and the crowns came out of dormancy and immediately started growing a few sets of leaves. Finally in december we get some freezing weather (I'm outside of Nashville, zone 7a). From what I've read last, they need to be exposed to temps in the 20's to go dormant, which is what happened, then I covered them in straw for the winter. We really never had a winter. Mild temps in the 50's and some 60's for a good part of january. In the second week of february it's in the 70's, I start to worry the crowns will come out of dormancy and rot if they're covered in straw mulch, so I uncover them. The crowns are firm, not mushy and rotting. Here I am in the second week of march (todays high is 65), the crowns have been uncovered for 4 weeks and haven't shown any signs of life. My garden gets plenty of sun, all day long. We've had plenty of rain since december. They're in fantastic well draining soil, full of organic matter and life. I called the nursery that I purchased the crowns from and the guy said to wait another month. That sounds to me like "I just answer the phones here and this is my day job and I don't know anything about plants". So, strawberry growers of Permies, should I wait? am I being impatient? should I pony up some cash and replace them? I fully understand I won't get berries this first year, and I don't want to lose an entire year of growth and establishment because my wife and I really want berries in 2018. Your advice is much appreciated. Thanks!!
 
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Don't panic, those strawberries will wake up and start growing. Ours have been in leaf all winter this year (through a loose straw mulch). We also have a few that had no mulch and are still doing fine.
Once your strawberries are established through a year, they will survive without a thick layer of straw quite nicely.
It's that first year that trips some folks up since they might sit dormant until the weather warms up day and night the first season.
I have a couple of friends that dug up their winter planted crowns thinking they were dead, they then planted newly bought crowns and decided to give me their "dead" ones.
I now have an entire new bed that is going to do very well this year thanks to their not listening to me.
I can see a lot of Jam and Preserves along with shortcakes coming up in just a couple of months now.

The new weather patterns in the South are still adjusting but we will be lucky to see what we used to know as Winter any time in the near future. While our days are warmer than "normal" the nights still get cold enough to keep crowns in dormancy, once those nights are consistently in the 50's to 60's those crowns will start waking up. Don't be too surprised if you get some "late season" berries this year, we generally have been getting a spring crop and a fall crop the last two years.

Redhawk
 
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You are a very neat gardener with a huge attention to details! I use strawberries as space fillers, groundcover and understory, it is better when the birds and the kids don't find them all. I grow as well alpine strawberries.
 
James Freyr
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Redhawk-

Thanks for the input man. So this afternoon as I continued to worry too much about my strawberries I decided to sacrifice one. I sliced it vertically down the center with a razor blade, and the interior is a tobacco brown color. I compared what I was looking at with photos on an ag extension website (forget which university it was) and it looked uncannily like a dead crown that succumbed to disease (verticillium wilt if memory serves me correct, which it sometimes does not). I did see photos of a healthy crown and the interior is a mix of white and light green tissue. I want to believe that if I wait til april they will show signs of life, but I also am afraid my crowns are toast. Strawberries come into season in tennessee about the first of may, usually over by middle of june, which is the sole information that makes me believe they should be growing already. again, I've never grown strawberries before and this is all new to me.

You mentioned your plants were in leaf all winter. Mine had leaves when I mulched them, all those leaves were brown/rotten and mostly gone when I removed the mulch in february. Perhaps I mulched too thick and things stayed too wet and couldn't breathe. All I did was follow the guidelines from the nursery to mulch 4 to 6 inches of straw. Anyway, I'm kinda on the fence about replacing them sooner than later. I do think waiting till mid may when it's blazing hot and the sun is high in the sky is the wrong time to plant new crowns. Thoughts anyone?
 
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Be patient.  It's still too early, even where you are for them to be sprouting.  My wife's Grandmother had strawberries just planted out in the edge of an old field.  They grew like gangbusters and we had winters that were milder(Northern Middle GA) and could have big swings in temps in just a day or two than what you experience in Nashville.  I even have Strawberries growing here in Alaska.  They are in two raised beds and do very well.
 
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I'm not a big strawberry grower, but can I suggest a different experiment? Can you pot up one of your strawberry crowns and bring it inside to a warm window? If they're just waiting for warmer weather that should spur at least that one to grow. Keep checking the crowns for firmness. So long as they aren't going mushy, there's a fair chance they're alive.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I sliced it vertically down the center with a razor blade, and the interior is a tobacco brown color. I compared what I was looking at with photos on an ag extension website (forget which university it was) and it looked uncannily like a dead crown that succumbed to disease (verticillium wilt if memory serves me correct, which it sometimes does not).  

 

Perhaps I mulched too thick and things stayed too wet and couldn't breathe. All I did was follow the guidelines from the nursery to mulch 4 to 6 inches of straw.



hau James, The one you dissected does sound like a fatal case of verticillium, but that one doesn't mean they all have contracted it. If the crowns stay firm to touch they might be just fine, a test like Casie mentioned would be worth doing, it will show if life is still present.

If you  still want berries, My suggestion would be to buy some growing, nursery plants, these can even be found at Home Depot or Walmart.
That would give you some that are already doing fine and give you that time span to wait and see if those crowns will come to life.

strawberry trouble shooing This link is to the Cornell berry page for strawberries, it has lots of good information on problems and how to avoid or repair the damage done.

Redhawk
 
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Hi James :)

7 months later, how did it go with the first batch of strawberries?
I hope they did ok.
 
James Freyr
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Hi Yolande-

I'm glad you posted a reply and resurrected this thread cause I had forgotten about this and do have follow up information. So, as mentioned before, I decided to slice open more crowns, and they we're all the same tobacco brown color inside. Here's what I think happened and it's gardener error.

All the how to strawberry guides and information I read mentioned covering strawberry crowns with mulch to over winter. I did that, and one of two things happened, or a combination of both which is what I'm inclined to believe. I either mulched too thick which created stagnant air conditions around the crowns or the crown demise was a result of the abnormally mild (and rather wet) winter we had, but I really think it was the combination of the two that created good conditions for their demise. I mean I didn't just sprinkle a little straw over the strawberry bed, I loaded it up.

So I believe that me, trying to be a good gardener and having not done this before, overdid it and killed my strawberry crowns. I ordered new crowns from a nursery, which meant I had to get in the queue of first come first served and it was 3 weeks before my new crowns arrived, but in the meantime none of the old crowns every showed any signs of life.

I planted the new crowns and they took off like wildfire. I planted a june bearing and an everbearing. I picked the blossoms off both varieties so they could concentrate energy on growing root and leaf. The june bearer of course stopped blossoming, and I kept removing blossoms on the ever bearing until about july then I let them go, and have been getting nice strawberries since. I noticed when it got really hot in august blossom production waned but never ceased, and when things started to cool off a little blossom production picked back up.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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For the last two years we have not mulched over the strawberries, the one year we did caused some rot to start so I removed the straw mulch and let them live or die for the winter, they all came through nicely.

Of course Arkansas doesn't see really low temps very often anymore. I don't think we have had a single digit day or night the past 5 years.

Redhawk
 
James Freyr
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Here's a picture of my strawberry bed I took this morning.

strawberries-in-raised-bed.jpg
strawberries in raised bed
strawberries in raised bed
 
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We don't mulch strawberries here, we get down to -15C on occasion on winter and -10 every winter, we don't have any snowcover normaly either. Strawberries are hardy, I think people worry about them way too much.
 
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Mulching your berries is a great way to delay blooming to avoid frost damage. You can also just mulch part of the berry plants to delay blooming and extend the harvest of June bearing berries. Or you can mulch them all but uncover on different dates.

I only use an inch or two of straw.

It isn't necessary. They can stand a lot of cold. I use it mainly to delay blooming. I leave some straw on in the Spring to keep the berries out of the dirt.

Strawberries like good drainage.  I plant on ridges or in raised beds.
 
James Freyr
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Here's an update:

Since I'm in the south I did not mulch my strawberry bed this past winter. All the foliage turned brown and died off when winter set in, but come some mild days in February, new green growth started to emerge from the crowns. Now in May, there are strawberries galore out there in the raised bed. The berries are kinda small, certainly nothing as big as grocery store varieties, but the flavor is great.

bowl-of-strawberries.jpg
bowl of strawberries
bowl of strawberries
 
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This year, I've started taking my Mom (87) to the Senior's Rec Centre (she needs to find more hobbies, and she hates gardening).  Since I am still active and strong, I am likely to get "hit on" a fair amount.

Anyway, at the last Carpet Bowling, I was asked if I would like to take a rototiller to matted up strawberry patch.  I didn't know much about strawberries, other than I know what they taste like and a few other points.  I've read that they don't compete with weeds well, and yet there are lots of places in my 40+ year old fescue pasture, where there are extensive patches of strawberry.  And I set up a patch of potatoe in wood chips this year, and the strawberries moved into there too.

With my fescue, I am trying very hard not to till.  So, can I do the same with this strawberry problem?

Companion planting seems to be a bit of a problem for strawberries, as they don't seem to need help growing.  They need help staying healthy, and they need help with population density (at least the June type does).   Anyway, what appears to be a small companion list is: borage, chives, spinach, rhubarb, nasturtium and horseradish.  Planting in a raised bed might be a good thing, it probably does result in an increased need for water.  Nasturtium probably just needs to be close, to attract insects.  Borage should be part of the bed, but probably doesn't need to be extensive.  I would say that spinach and/or chives should be planted at about the same density as the strawberries (spinach+hives=strawberry), nominally to act as barriers to strawberry domination.  While rhubarb should grow well with strawberry, that isn't my plan.  I think horseradish is a good idea (deep roots, sort of like asparagus I gather (it gets planted with strawberries)), but how much and where?   I would think that horseradish might help with the wilting problem.

To grow rhubarb in pots, you need big pots.  Something like 2x2 feet and 2 foot tall.  Not the kind of thing an elderly person who carpet bowls would probably want to move.  It should be a lightweight soil (so probably a fair amount of volcanic foamed rock, and things like peat or coir in it.  At the beginning of the season, you decide what section(s) of the bed are to be planted with new strawberry plants next year.  You "chop and drop" those section(s), and set the rhubarb planters on top of those areas.  Hence the pot will "shade out" some of the ground, and the rhubarb is going to partially shade out some of the nearby plants.  When the rhubarb gets watered, the "excess" water from it will drop down into the strawberry bed.  How far?  Now that you have moved the rhubarb pots, it is time to plant new plants where the rhubarb pot was.  In places which get very cold, a person may need to cover the rhubarb pots with insulation for the winter.

A few places have looked into "cover crops" to put strawberries into rotation.  Broccoli seems to be a good fit for this.  More recently, there has been work on mustard grown as a "green manure". Mustard is Sinapis hirta, Brassica juncea and Brassica nigra.  They are specifically looking at the mild white and the brown mustard, not the black.  There seem to be hybrids of the mild and the brown which produce more thioglycosides, which is the aspect of mustard which helps to reduce wilt problems via biofumigation.  I would think that horseradish would contribute to this as well.

The chives can get haircuts during the season, and those cuttings can be used anywhere in the.  Lots of articles talk about giving the strawberries hair cuts after harvest.  Most say to not get the crown in the process.

There is mention that strawberries have shallow roots, and then everybody talks about tilling leaves and compost into the soil (without killing the roots).  I gather what they are specifically talking about is tillage in the top 2 inches only.

There were some people who had success at letting chicken loose into a system vaguely like what I dreamt up, and chickens probably till he soil to the correct depth.
 
Gordon Haverland
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Looking down the susceptible and immune lists for verticillium wilt, it might be that plants having these thioglycosides (such as mustard, horseradish, wasabi, ...) are immune because those compounds act against those fungii?

Below is a link to a UMASS blurb, which talks a little about this biofumigation idea with mustards.
https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/newsletters/december_10_2015_vegetable_notes.pdf

 
Gordon Haverland
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I would be inclined to plant the horseradish in the places where the chives are.  Nobody is going to mistake a horseradish leaf for a chive leaf.  While growing mustard for the year after taking the rhubarb box off a piece of the land meant for strawberries, how many people need mustard?  And if it goes to see, you will probably have more mustard.  I know broccoli tends to be part of the rotation for a lot of people for strawberries.  I did not know that it also has these thioglucosinates in it.  I doubt they are at the level of mustard or horseradish.  But I think more people could use broccoli from their strawberry patch, than mustard.  And if they need a "buzz", they can dig up some of the horseradish root, and that should satisfy their craving.  But don't rototill the horseradish!  You will end up with a gazillion horseradish plants.

If you want a 1 year hiatus from the strawberries, I think broccoli is the place to go (unless you really like mustard).  For multi-year hiatii (sp?) asparagus is something to look at, as is clover (I am thinking annual clovers, like crimson clover).  If the area in question had a weed problem, growing buckwheat might be okay the first year after the box comes off.  But as with mustard, you probably don't want it to go to seed.  Flowers is fine, especially on a small piece of land (2x2 feet).
 
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