DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Strawberry Dos and Don’ts

The Minnesota strawberry season is just around the corner, so dig out the recipes. But you have to enjoy them as soon as they appear; they don’t last long.

Strawberries have such a delicate flavor that they are best eaten right when picked. Some people use a bit of sugar and drizzle cream for that old favorite. A fresh strawberry pie is always a treat, too. Surplus berries can be used for jam, a fruit treat to remind us of summer in the midst of winter.

Once picked, keep strawberries in the refrigerator, but allow them to warm up before enjoying. The chill will dull the flavor. Do not wash strawberries until serving.

If you have your own patch, you can enjoy them anytime. Or, you can find a strawberry farm and pick as many as you like for the rest of the year.

Pick-your-own strawberry patches should be open or opening soon.  Their openings range from the third or fourth week in southern Minnesota to early July for the northern part of the state. (The Minnesota Grown directory can be found online at www.minnesotagrown.com. It lists 86 berry farms. Or call toll-free, 1-888-868-7476, for more information.)

The prospects for the strawberry crop looks good this summer. Some say our mild winter got them off to a good start. Others say the rains did it.

While the Romans enjoyed strawberries eons ago, those berries were tart and small. When Europeans came to North America, they discovered native species, which were bigger and sweeter. The large, sweet berries of today have a complex history involving the hybridization of wild Virginia and beach strawberries.

There are three kinds of strawberries that are primarily grown in the U.S. today:

  • The first is the June-bearing variety. The June-bearing strawberries produce their fruit in a month-long period. They are sometimes also called “short day” strawberries because they require the short days of fall to trigger the development of flower buds for the following spring’s crop.
  • The second is the ever-bearing, which usually bear fruit two or three times during each growing season. Ever-bearers (also sometimes called perpetual or fall strawberries) usually bloom and set fruit in the spring or early summer and then again in late summer or early fall. Ever-bearing require long day lengths to initiate flower buds.
  • The third is day-neutral, a fairly recent newcomer to the world of strawberries. Day neutrals will produce fruit throughout the growing season and are not dependent upon the length of the day for setting flower buds.

Strawberries are easy to grow in your own yard, but keep it simple. Strawberries need a well-drained, fertile soil high in organic matter. Sandy loams warm faster in spring and produce ripe fruit up to a week earlier than strawberries grown in heavy soils. Planting strawberries in raised beds also works well.

The double-hill method is a good way to plant strawberries. Set plants in hilled twin rows, 10 to 12 inches apart.  Space rows 18 inches apart.

You can purchase strawberry plants through a nursery. Exercise caution with plants obtained from friends, since they can have disease problems.

However you do it, growing your own or picking someone else’s, nothing is more tasty than fruit berries in summer as we prepare for another winter.


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