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Backyard Strawberry Patch
Creating a permanent strawberry patch in your yard
By: Gene DeFazzio

Strawberry production

Wouldn't it be great to sit down at the table three times a day for 20 to 25 days in early summer with a bowl of fresh strawberries beside your plate.

With the right know-how and a dedication to perfection, it is possible to harvest eight to ten pints of berries from each plant that you set in the soil the year-before. Yet most gardeners will be lucky if they pick one pint of berries from each plant that they grow.

Half of strawberry gardeners quit after one try because they get so little for their efforts. Strawberries are very productive plants, but success with them takes planning, knowledge, determination and a desire for perfection.

Planting and cultivating strawberries

For a family of five people start with a planting of 20 to 24 plants. For a family of two, a dozen plants should be enough. What counts most is how well you care for your strawberries. Have your soil well fertilized and cultivated in advance and set them 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart in each row. Be careful to set strawberry plants neither deeper nor shallower than they were in the soil where they grew.

Once a week spend a little time straightening the rows and training the runners. If you should pull one of the newly-rooted plants while weeding, simply make a slight depression with your fingers, set the young plant into it and pack some soil firmly around it. Add a little mulch every two weeks to retain moisture and control weeds. You should have a bed of strawberries three to five feet wide to pick from the following season. And, this cycle can be repeated year after year.

The day after the strawberry harvest is over, renew your bed. Don't wait for tomorrow. Take a lawnmower and cut down 2/3 rds of your plants, leaving a narrow band of plants that will send runners back into the bed and renew it. Rotary-till the mowed portion not once but five times. Before tilling, spread on plenty of good compost, rotted manure or peat.

From tilling time through fall mulch lightly but regularly and turn the occasional stray runner back toward the bed.

Strawberries always root deeper and better when a sifting of mulch is applied over the soft soil. It keeps moisture in the ground and weeds down. By sprinkling additional mulch every two weeks, you should have a full half inch of mulch on the ground by the middle of October.

Do not mulch with leaves, straw or hay unless they have been ground up fine. They are all excellent mulches but too heavy in their natural state.

The strawberry plant is not designed to produce fruit for longer than one season. It sends out runners profusely in order to continue its life as well as to extend its domain.

All one has to do is look at the root systems of one, two, and three-year-old plants to see why this is true. A three-year-old will have only an inch to an inch and a half nob with a couple of scraggly roots. The two-year-old will have perhaps a dozen roots extending from the nob at the crown. The one-year-old plant will have from 20 to 50 roots spreading in every direction.

Care for your strawberries naturally

It is the root system and the soil it's in that determines the amount of production and the size of the berry. The old plants have lived life and now are dying to make room for new, healthy plants to root and grow.

Apparently some growers like to go to a lot of trouble with strawberries, creeping along pinching buds and cutting off runners. They are working contrary to the plant's nature.

Strawberries are best left to grow their own way. The only thing the grower needs to do is to attend to the soil and weeds. Don't worry about the weather, or the plants, or insects and diseases. Just work with nature to the best of your ability, and you'll be eating strawberries year-round.

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