How to Grow Big Strawberries (Organically)

How to Grow Big Strawberries (Organically)

Strawberries, with their vibrant red hue and irresistible sweetness, are a favorite in many gardens. However, growing large, juicy strawberries organically requires understanding the right techniques and the differences between their types, mainly June-bearing and ever-bearing strawberries. Click here for more information about our strawberries for sale.

Understanding Strawberry Types: June-bearing vs. Ever-bearing

Before diving into the cultivation process, it's important l to understand the types of strawberries, as this influences their care and harvesting. Strawberries are mainly categorized into two types: June-bearing and ever-bearing.

June-bearing strawberries

These berries produce a single, large crop per year, usually over a period of three weeks. Despite their name, the exact timing of this crop can vary depending on the local climate; in warmer regions, it might occur as early as May, while in cooler areas, it could be in late June. These varieties are known for producing larger berries, but their once-a-year harvest limits continuous production.

Ever-bearing strawberries

These berries produce two to three smaller harvests throughout the growing season. While the individual berries might be slightly smaller compared to June-bearing varieties, the extended harvest period is a significant advantage for those who enjoy fresh strawberries over a longer time.

Choosing the Right Variety

Selecting the right variety is the first step towards growing large strawberries. For organic gardens, choosing disease-resistant varieties can reduce the need for chemical interventions. Some popular choices for large berries include 'Chandler' and 'Sequoia' for June-bearing and 'Fort Laramie' and 'Ozark Beauty' for ever-bearing. Your local nursery can guide you on the best varieties for your specific climate and soil conditions.

Preparing the Soil: The Foundation of Organic Gardening

Soil preparation is paramount in organic gardening. Strawberries thrive in well-drained, loamy soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. Conduct a soil test to determine your soil's pH and nutrient levels. Amend your soil with organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to improve fertility and structure. This step is crucial for robust plant growth and large fruit development.

Planting and Spacing

When planting strawberries, the timing is crucial. Early spring or late fall is ideal, depending on your region. Proper spacing is essential to give each plant enough room to grow and access nutrients. Space June-bearing plants about 18-24 inches apart in rows spaced 3-4 feet apart, while ever-bearing varieties can be slightly closer due to their smaller size.

Sun & Water

Strawberries require full sun for optimal growth and fruit development. Ensure your garden spot receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. This exposure is crucial for the photosynthesis process, leading to bigger and sweeter berries.

Water is a critical component in growing strawberries. The key is consistent moisture, especially during fruit development. Strawberries need about 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Drip irrigation or a soaker hose is ideal for providing deep, even watering while keeping leaves dry, which is essential for preventing fungal diseases.

Organic Fertilization: Feeding Your Plants Naturally

Organic fertilization is about feeding the soil as much as the plant. Use a balanced organic fertilizer at planting time and then switch to a high-potassium fertilizer during flowering and fruiting. Potassium is crucial for fruit development and overall plant health. Avoid over-fertilization, as it can lead to lush foliage at the expense of fruit production.

Strawberries thrive in well-drained, fertile soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (around 5.5 to 6.8). To create the ideal growing conditions, several soil amendments can be beneficial:

  1. Organic Matter: Adding organic matter is one of the most important amendments for strawberry beds. This includes:
    • Compost: Rich in nutrients and microorganisms, compost improves soil structure, drainage, and nutrient availability.
    • Well-Rotted Manure: A great source of nutrients, it also improves soil texture. Ensure it is well-rotted to avoid burning the plants or introducing pathogens.
  2. Sand: If your soil is heavy and clayey, adding coarse sand can improve drainage. Strawberries do not perform well in waterlogged soil.
  3. Peat Moss or Coconut Coir: These amendments can help increase the soil's water retention ability, which is beneficial for sandy soils. They also slightly acidify the soil, which can be helpful if your soil is too alkaline.
  4. Perlite or Vermiculite: These inorganic amendments improve soil aeration and drainage, making them useful in compact or clayey soils.
  5. Lime: If a soil test reveals that your soil is too acidic (pH below 5.5), adding lime can help raise the pH to a more suitable level for strawberries. Lime also adds calcium, which is essential for plant growth.
  6. Gypsum: If your soil needs more calcium but the pH is already optimal, gypsum is a good choice as it adds calcium without altering the soil pH.
  7. Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate): If your soil is deficient in magnesium, Epsom salt can be a useful amendment. Magnesium is crucial for plant growth and fruit development.
  8. Bone Meal or Rock Phosphate: These are excellent sources of phosphorus, which is essential for root development and fruiting. They also provide calcium.
  9. Blood Meal or Fish Emulsion: These are good organic sources of nitrogen, beneficial for leaf and stem growth. However, they should be used sparingly to avoid excessive vegetative growth at the expense of fruit production.
  10. Mulch: While not mixed into the soil, applying mulch around strawberry plants helps maintain soil moisture, regulate temperature, suppress weeds, and add organic matter as it breaks down.

It's important to conduct a soil test before making amendments to understand your soil's specific needs. This will guide you in making the most appropriate and effective adjustments to create the ideal growing environment for your strawberries.

Mulching for Moisture, Weed Control, and Cleanliness

Mulching is a vital organic practice. Straw or pine needles are excellent choices for strawberry beds. They help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the fruits clean by preventing them from touching the soil directly. Mulching also adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.

Pest and Disease Management: Organic Approaches

Organic gardening doesn't mean letting pests and diseases run rampant. Regular monitoring is key. Handpick pests when possible, and use organic insecticidal soaps or neem oil for more significant infestations. For diseases, proper plant spacing and avoiding overhead watering are critical preventive measures. If needed, use organic fungicides, ensuring they are suitable for edible plants.

Renovating for Future Harvests

Post-harvest renovation is crucial, especially for June-bearing strawberries. This process involves thinning plants, removing old leaves, and replenishing the soil with compost. This rejuvenation is essential for maintaining plant health and ensuring large fruit production in the subsequent season.

Runner Management: Focusing the Plant's Energy

In organic strawberry cultivation, managing runners is essential. While runners help propagate the plant, too many can divert energy from fruit production. Limit the number of runners each plant produces, especially in the first year.

*****

Whether you choose June-bearing or ever-bearing varieties, key to success includes selecting the right type, enriching the soil with organic matter, and following sustainable practices. Proper watering, organic fertilization, and natural pest management are crucial for healthy growth and sizable fruits. Practices like mulching and careful runner management further enhance plant health. It's a fulfilling journey that contributes to a healthier, more sustainable environment.

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