Bright red, sweet and delicious, strawberries are an icon of summer. They are one of the most popular berries in the world. You can grow organic strawberries at home.
Why Grow Organic Strawberries?
According to the Environmental Work Group, or EWG, strawberries rank 6th as the most pesticide polluted types of produce. In an effort to reduce consumer’s exposure to pesticides, the EWG began analyzing the amount of pesticide in various types of produce. The analysis led to ranking of 47 types of produce, from most polluted to least polluted. Conventionally grown strawberries come in number 6, below peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery and nectarines. As a member of dirty dozen, or 12 most important types of produce to purchase organically, it is easy to see why organic strawberries are preferred.
Many gardeners are choosing to grow organic strawberries at home. Strawberries are perennials, meaning you only have to plant them once and they come up every year. Also, once established, strawberries require very little care and provide an abundance of fruit for years to come. You don’t need a large yard to grow organic strawberries. Strawberries can be grown in a typical garden row, a raised bed, a hill, or in a container.
Choosing Organic Strawberry Varieties
The first step to growing organic strawberries is to choose the variety. Strawberries can be separated into 2 distinct categories June-bearing or ever-bearing. As the name suggests, June-bearing plants produce all of their fruit in the month of June. If you prefer harvesting a large quantity of strawberries one time per year, this may be the variety for you. A single harvest can making preserving, or canning, strawberries easier.
The ever-bearing variety produces a small yield continually from spring through fall. This is the ideal variety for gardeners that want a small supply of berries to eat throughout the summer. Regardless of the strawberry variety chosen, ensure they are organic because some types of genetically modified strawberries are available. The varieties below are free from genetic modification:
- Ft. Laramie
- Oso Grande
Preparing the Soil for the Strawberries
To successfully grow organic strawberries, provide them with plenty of sunlight and give them fertile, well-drained soil. Any bed receiving full sun from the south will provide sufficient sunlight. Strawberries are not prone to disease, but soggy soil will promote root rot. The roots of strawberries need good drainage, which is why they are often grown in a pot, raised bed, or on a hill. Strawberries can do well grown in a typical flat garden bed, if the soil drains properly and isn't watered too often. One inch of water per week is enough for strawberries.
Clear the area for planting the strawberries of any weeds, or grass. If the soil in your area has clay, work in sand to make the soil loamy. For strawberries, the soil pH should ideally be between 5.5 and 6.5. Work the soil at least as deep as the roots of the strawberry plants. Two to three inches should be sufficient. To get the organic strawberry plants off to a good start, add organic humus to the soil as well.
Planting Organic Strawberry Plants
Ideally, strawberries should be planted in the spring. Dig the hole deep enough to allow the roots to spread easily. Plant the strawberry and fill the hole with soil. Place the strawberry plants at least 1 ½ feet apart. Strawberry plants spread rapidly through a system of runners, when they are not producing fruit. Because they spread so quickly, plenty of room should be left between plants for the strawberries to spread. Water the strawberry plants and mulch them well.
Planting Organic Strawberries from Seed
Begin with organic, heirloom strawberry seeds to avoid hybrids and get the best taste and nutrition from your organic strawberries. Store strawberry seeds in the freezer prior to planting them. Fill the seed starting trays, or pots, with 2 inches of soil. Place 2-3 strawberry seeds in each pot to ensure germination of at least one plant in each pot. Cover the seeds with a light 1/8-inch layer of soil. Place the organic strawberry seeds in a sunny window and water them daily. The soil should remain most, but not soggy. A layer of plastic film can be placed over the seed trays to ensure humidity until germination. Then the plastic should be removed.
It will take 2-3 weeks for strawberry seeds to germinate. When the strawberry plants have several leaves each, they are ready to transplant outside. It is a good idea to harden them to outdoor temperatures by placing them in a garage, or sheltered area for several weeks before planting outside. This gives the new strawberry plants a chance to adjust gradually to the cooler nights and other temperature fluctuations outdoors.
Caring for Organic Strawberries
Fertilizing is an important part of growing organic strawberries. There is some controversy in the organic growing community as to whether blood meal or bone meal should be used. These fertilizers are animal sources of nitrogen and can breed bacteria. There are other sources of nitrogen available to gardeners such as composted plant materials. Produce waste from the kitchen, grass clippings, and leaves can all be composted and used to provide nitrogen to the soil. To successfully raise organic strawberries, make a habit of composting to feed the soil and test the soil regularly to see if additional supplementation from organic fertilizers is necessary.
To grow organic strawberries abundantly, they should receive at least an inch of water per week. Strawberries can suffer root rot if the soil remains soggy for long periods of time, so it is important that the ground be allowed to dry out between watering. Strawberries are shallow rooted and the top inch of soil should be saturated weekly to ensure an adequate water supply.
The Environmental Work Group's Guide to Pesticides - http://www.foodnews.org/methodology.php
The Weedless Garden by Lee Reich [Workman Publishing, 2001]