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Strawberry seeds are easily separated from ripe fruit by placing them in a household blender with a cup of water and blending at high speed for just a few seconds. (Not too long, or the seeds may be damaged). The good seeds will settle to the bottom, and the fruit pulp and unripe seeds will float. Wait a minute or so for the seeds to settle, and pour off the liquid. The seeds can then be rinsed or scraped out and allowed to dry on a paper towel.
Strawberries are perhaps the most ideal fruit for the home garden or for a small-scale planting. They are easy to grow, relatively pest free, and require little space. Twenty-five plants should provide enough berries for a family of four.
There are many varieties available that are suitable for Massachusetts. Be sure to purchase certified, virus-free plants. They cost a little more but produce healthier plants and greater yields of fruit. Verticillium-resistant and red stele-resistant varieties are advisable, especially where garden space is limited and other verticillium susceptible plants have been grown. Recommended strawberry varieties include:
Strawberries will grow in almost any soil type, but prefer a sandy loam. The important soil factors to consider are adequate water drainage and abundant organic matter. Soil should be well-cultivated and free of perennial weeds. At planting time, soil should be loosened and pulverized to a depth of eight inches and kept loosened to allow runners to take root. To avoid problems with verticillium wilt, do not plant strawberries where potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants strawberries or raspberries have grown within three years.
Before planting - A soil pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 is preferred; 6.0 - 6.5 is ideal. Have your soil tested and follow the recommendations given. Lime (if needed) should be applied before planting and mixed thoroughly with the soil. Aged cow or horse manure at two to five bushels per 100 square feet, or compost, can be added to the soil to increase available organic matter. In addition, work into the soil about two pounds of 10-10-10 (four pounds 5-10-10, or equivalent) per 100 square feet to increase the nitrogen level.
After planting - Apply one to two pounds of 10-10-10 (or equivalent) per 100 square feet four to six weeks after planting and again in late August, depending on plant growth.
Fruiting year - Do not apply fertilizer the spring of fruiting year. Too much nitrogen results in large, soft berries and excessive vegetative growth.
After renovation - Immediately after renovation, apply four pounds of 10-10-10 (or equivalent) per 100 square feet over the rows when plants are dry. Fertilizer application to wet plants can result in phytotoxicity.
Complete preparation of the planting site is the most important consideration at planting time. Work the plant site as soon as possible in the spring. Purchase plants from a reputable nursery. To avoid disease problems, do not transplant from another strawberry field.
If your plants arrive by mail open the package immediately. Return moldy plants to the shipper. Plants can take fairly dry conditions without becoming damaged. If you cannot plant them immediately, wrap the plants in moist paper towels, place them in a plastic bag and store the bag in your refrigerator until it's time to plant. Plant as soon as the soil can be thoroughly worked in the spring.
There are several systems for planting strawberries. The most common is the matted row system in which mother plants are set 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are three-to-four-and-a-half feet apart. Daughter plants, or runners, are allowed to root anywhere within the row. In the spaced row system, mother plants are set 12 to 15 inches apart, and runner plants are allowed to set at five-to-seven-inch spacings. Other systems include single and double hedgerow and hill systems.
Set the plant at the proper depth in the soil; just the tip of the crown should be exposed. Now, spread and set the roots vertically in the soil. Pack the soil firmly around the roots. It is essential to have all parts of the root in contact with the soil. Water plants immediately after planting.
If there is not a good rainfall, you'll need to water plants thoroughly at least twice a week.
After the plants are set out, during the period of fruit bud development in the fall, during production, and after renovation, extra water may be necessary. Generally, an inch of water per week, either supplied by normal rainfall or supplemental waterings, is recommended.
The most important aspect of strawberry culture is weed control. Proper site preparation will help control troublesome perennial weeds. After the plants become established, cultivating can begin. Shallow cultivation as close to the plants as possible, combined with hand hoeing, is the recommended practice. To give the strawberry plants maximum growth advantage, weeds should be removed as soon as they appear. Weed control should be practiced until growth stops in the fall.
In addition to weed control and watering, blossoms should be removed from newly set out plants. If fruit is allowed to form on new plants, these plants will not make maximum growth.
After growth has stopped in the fall, apply at least a three-inch layer of straw, marsh hay, pine needles, sudan grass or other suitable material over the tops of the plants. Avoid sawdust and leaves because they pack too tightly and smother the plants. Watering the mulch lightly will help settle it and reduce loss from wind.
Mulching helps protect the plants during severe winters, delays growth in spring (to protect against frosts), helps conserve moisture, and helps with weed control.Apply a mulch when the temperature drops to about 20 degrees for several days in a row or several times in a week. The rule of thumb is to mulch after the soil is frozen to a depth of one-half inch.
Don't apply mulch after several warm, sunny days. If you mulch during warm weather, the plants may start growing again. Then the plants can be severely damaged when the weather turns cold.
Remove the mulch in spring as soon as new leaf growth begins to turn yellow (due to lack of sunlight); but not before there is still any danger of temperatures dipping into the 20's. Part the mulch over the top of the row, moving the mulch into the alleyways. Leave a thin layer of mulch on the plants to protect the developing berries and help with moisture conservation.
If a strawberry bed is free of weed, disease, or insect problems and has borne a good crop of berries, you should consider fruiting the bed another year. After harvest, remove mulch and mow the foliage as close to the bed as possible. Remove weak and extra plants and weeds. Cultivate between the rows of plants. Apply fertilizer as indicated above. Treat as a "new" bed. Normally, mother plants and the first daughter plants to form are kept, because these are the most productive plants.
The main insect pests are tarnished plant bugs, strawberry weevils, spittlebugs, and mites.
Two common diseases often present in the strawberry bed are fruit rots and leaf spot. These diseases are troublesome during moist conditions, especially after heavy spring rains, or during long periods of high humidity.
Fruit rots are fungus diseases. There are several types including gray mold (the most prevalent), tan rot, hard rot, leather rot, black seed rot and stem end rot. Their names describe their appearance. Infection occurs through germinating spores or by fungal strands spreading from already infected fruit. Usually the fungus first infects the fruit area adjacent to the berry top causing a light brown soft spot. This rotted area turns dark brown and firm. In advanced stages gray, fuzzy spores appear on the infected area. This is characteristic of gray mold rot.
Several cultural practices can help to discourage fruit rot:
Leaf spot is a term given to several specific disorders: leaf spot, leaf scorch and leaf blight. Infection occurs primarily during the fall. Leaf Spot usually attack immature growth. Bluish or tan areas appear on the undersurface of the leaf; while round, purple spots about 1/8 inch in diameter appear on the leaf's upper surface. With leaf spot disease the centers of the spots turn gray. However, if leaf scorch has infected the plant, the spots do not change color and all stages of leaf growth may be attacked. Leaf blight causes large, irregular spots on the leaves and also may attack the berry cap. As with fruit rot, good sanitation should be practiced to discourage leaf spot diseases. Also, remove and destroy infected plants because the disease overwinters in infected vegetation and can cause reinfection the following season.
There are several very destructive soil-borne organisms that can infect strawberry plants through their roots. Proper choice of strawberry bed sites and land management will help prevent problems with these diseases. Choosing disease resistant varieties (refer to "Varieties of Strawberries for Massachusetts" available from your local county Cooperative Extension office) and planting certified virus-free plants will also help. Strawberries will grow in a wide range of soil types, but prefer a well-drained sandy loam. Always choose an area with full sunlight so plants will dry out after rains, and have the advantage of optimal growing conditions.
Black root: Reduces plant vigor, resulting in decreased runner production. Small roots are affected first and are killed quickly. Dark patches occur on larger roots that eventually turn black. It is not known for sure what actually caused this problem. At the present time, no varieties are resistant to black root. Use only healthy, white-rooted plants to establish a strawberry bed.
Verticillium wilt: First appears as wilting and drying of outer strawberry leaves. Infected plants often wilt completely if conditions are especially severe. Symptoms can appear when first-year plants are setting runners or when fruits begin to ripen on bearing plants. Plant verticillium-resistant varieties. Avoid planting in areas where potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, raspberries or strawberries were planted in the past three years.
Red stele: Destroys small roots and, eventually, the entire root system of infected plants. Plants are stunted and wilted. Infected roots have a red core, or stele. (Healthy roots have a white stele). Small roots are destroyed. Plant red stele-resistant varieties.
Problem: Blossoms open, but center of the blossom is brown or black. Cause: Frost injury to flower bud.
Problem: Small, deformed berries with lots of seeds (achenes). Cause: Tarnished plant bug injury.
Problem: Poorly shaped berries without seeds (achenes). Cause: Poor pollination.
During the "height" of the season berries should be harvested daily. Strawberries should not be left in the hot sun, but should be kept in a cool, dry place - preferably refrigerated. Wet berries do not hold up well and mold quickly.
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