Strawberry Fields Forthcoming

With visions of Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry Milkshakes — in fact, with strawberries of any shape and size — I got bamboozled into our strawberry escapade on our greenhouse operation.

I didn’t know much about growing strawberries, but my husband insisted that they could be grown here, so trustingly I went along with the concept.

The first order of business was to buy the plants from down south. Not believing in doing anything half-heartily, we ordered 1,600 plants. I don’t quite remember why so many, but to me it sounded like a lot but Frank, my husband, insisted he had the perfect field for them and it would fill that plot of land nicely.

So we roto-tilled the land, made nice, neat straight rows and, when the strawberry plants arrived, we were ready. The plants arrived in great condition and with shovel and hoe in hand we headed into the field.

After five hours of hand planting, it seemed we had hardly made a dent in the box of plants. My back sore, my hands dirty, the Strawberry Shortcake vision vanished rapidly.

Two days later, the field was finally planted and surprisingly the strawberries did quite well throughout the summer. We were not bothered with gophers, rabbits or other critters.

Foolishly we picked most of the flowers preventing them from developing fruit. The idea was for the plants to produce runners the first year and fruit the second. I let the odd flower do its thing as I had a hard time with the pruning process … I wanted strawberries now!!

Consequently, we did eat some strawberries that summer.

When fall came, it was time to mulch the strawberries. Because we were so inexperienced at gardening in the Yukon, we had never thought of the consequences of mulching with straw which is what all the books recommended.

We went ahead and mulched 1,300 plants with each plant receiving a large pitchfork load of straw. At that point we ran out of straw and energy. The rest of the plants were left on their own.

Imagine our surprise the following spring when we removed the mulch and not one of the mulched plants had made it through the winter. The reason: the mulched plants attracted the mice which managed to find not only a warm spot under the straw but also a good source of food.

The unmulched plants were fine.

A few lessons I have learned regarding strawberry growing in the Yukon:

  • Do not mulch strawberry plants.
  • Plant them where they get good snow cover.
  • If a hard frost (-10°C) comes before the snow, the best covering is peat moss.
  • The varieties we had really good luck with were Protem and Kent but there could be newer varieties out now.
  • Avoid raised beds as the plants freeze in from the sides and they will not over winter.
  • Nor will they over winter in a greenhouse for the same reason: they need snow cover.
  • An ideal way to grow strawberries would be under floating row covers giving the plants extra protection from wind and increase soil temperature. Then, in the fall, this could be taken off so the plants could receive the required amount of snow cover.

I have a friend who has had a strawberry patch for the last 25 years or more so visions of strawberry shortcake made with your own berries is a definite goal to work toward.

Ingrid Wilcox operates Lubbock Garden and Floral Consultant and offers gardening, greenhouse and flower arranging workshops. Contact her at [email protected]

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