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Growing Strawberries in the Southeast

John Dysinger


Strawberries are one fo the first and most loved crops in the spring garden, but also one of the most challenging. In this class we will look at the two main systems for growing strawberries and give tips and techniques for improving your chances of success.


John Dysinger

Bountiful Blessings Farm


  • January 16, 2020
    9:30 AM
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So I just want to mention before we get into the way we do it that in your brochure it said there's 2 different ways I hopefully we'll have a picture up here of it but so the way we grow strong berries is called the plastic culture method and we'll be talking much more about that through this hour the other way to grow them is the matted row method and you might call that the old fashioned method the way everybody used to grow strong berries in certain parts of the country those of you who were here great with a picture. Ok here we go here's a picture of matted row if you were here for the devotional this morning very Mosher in Minnesota was talking about his strawberry production this is the way they do it because plastic culture doesn't work up there so and this can be done in the South you know basically this is this is a standard method you have 4 feet between the rows and you just plant in the spring a bare root strawberry plant like every 2 feet in the row then what happens over the summer those strawberries runner and they fill in. As you can see on the right there they fill in and become literally a matted row of strawberries. Ok and then you don't get strawberries until the next spring in fact the 1st spring you will have plants flowering and they encourage you to pick the flowers off which is a huge job if you have very many of them so again there are parts of the country especially up north where this is really the only way they can grow them. Or as in a home gardening scale you may say I don't want to go the work of growing them the way I'm going to be talking about today so this is an option now one thing that I have heard people do which I think is kind of cool with the matted row is to alternate because the reality with this system they usually keep the strawberries for 2 or 3 years and then they fill them under so each year they're planting more for the following year does that make sense so they have this progression going on. But I have heard of people on a home scale who let the runners go into your pathways so you work up the pathway after the season's over let the runners go in and root on your pathway and then tell up your beds so you're your beds change every season and the reality is your 1st year plants are the most productive they kind of go down every year so that's a way to keep your 1st year planting going and that's something I would encourage you if you're doing it on a home scale or you don't want to go to the work of the plastic culture method as an option Ok let's see I think they're going to have to advance. So can we go the next slide so before we go any further I want you to really say Do you really want to grow strawberries there strawberries are a wonderful crop to have wonderful crop to eat but there are a lot of pros and cons so let's just go over this quickly almost everybody loves them it's easy to sell that to me that's the biggest pro they will draw crowds like nothing else and also because they're an early spring crop they they really bring people to your stand if you're selling at a farmers market or something. Before there's much else available and they you know once you get people to your stand you can often keep them for the whole season if they like the produce it like the quality in everything. Great drawn to your market stand good for value added products so you know the beauty of strawberries they're easy to freeze you can you know if you've got more than you can sell in the spring freeze them and you can make jam you can make you know and it can be healthier jam than they would by anywhere else. You know whatever lot of lot of ways that you can use strawberries for value added and it does have good money making potential and I've tried to be kind of conservative with these numbers but. You know I mean we sell our strawberries for $4.00 a pint. And at the beginning and end of the season we can sell them for $5.00 a pint. And acre you usually have 15 to 17000 plants in an acre. We're still working on our fertility You know but I know conventional growers that average Well in fact most conventional growers in this part of the country average a quart per plant so you just run those numbers and there's there's money to be made in strawberries. But of course your costs can be high too so those are the pros cons and this is a big con it's the real weather crop a lot can go wrong Frost rain in heats are are not good for strawberries so the weather 10 I mean you can do everything right for the 1st 7 months and a few days of rain in your crop is is more chsh. It's very labor intensive at the busiest time of the year that's why I've kind of figured out usually strawberry growers don't try to grow a lot of other things in the spring because I mean that's when everything else needs to be done on the farm and you're pretty much full out trying to pick strawberries and sell them so it really comes at. A hard time of year to be so flat out busy. There their disease prone and that's that's why strawberries if you've seen the Environmental Working Group list the dirty dozen lists strawberries are almost always number one. You know if you're going to eat anything organic start with strawberries because they're super highly sprayed with fungicides. Dear love them if you don't have a way to keep deer out you're not going to have strawberries assuming there's deer around. They have to be harvested quickly in timely You know there's some things that can wait a day or 2 but strawberries can't wait you know we harvest 3 times Sunday Tuesday Thursday and then you know we trust that the Lord will keep them good till Sunday again. And it can be very expensive to establish and again here we're talking about the plastic culture system so you've got a way that you know and back to the money making you know it sounds like really good money but the reality is for market gardeners there are other crops that can make more money per acre like lettuce and some of these so you know so basically what's happened with us we started with an acre of strawberries and got up to an acre and a half and now we're down to well so we started with like $17000.00 plants we got up 224000 now we're back to less than $4000.00 because we can't handle more with everything else we're doing we're we're much more diversified than we were before when we 1st started Ok Next slide so. The plastic culture system I think you assumed hopefully that means you're using plastic Now why do you want to use plastic plastic is not renewable sustainable I don't want to use plastic but I can tell you I've tried it every other way and I can't make money at it any other way we started doing it just bare ground mulching with straw. The pressure is just incredible. You know in if you're organic you're not spraying any kind of herbicides or anything I don't know how you can make money organically without using plastic Now Bob Gregory's in the back here and he has a lot more experience than I do so Bob if you have thoughts on any of these things that you want to chime in on I'm happy for that. The reality is things grow better on plastic and I don't like to say that and I really try not to use plastic more than I absolutely have to. But. For us we found we couldn't make it work without using plastic and this is this was our rationalization they can either buy local organic strawberries from us grown on plastic or they're going to be buying. California or Florida berries probably conventional and also grown on plastic so I think it's still a move in the right direction so this is the way if you're going to really go into it this is what you need this plastic mulch layer it makes the beds lays the mulch lays the drip tape all in one pass it's a wonderful tool and this is a you know this is a 3 or 4 for $5000.00 unit but you can get them as cheap as a couple 1000. It's it's a plastic mulch layer bed maker slash bolts layer. And that's the ideal and then you can this is not the best picture there is what's called a water wheel plants or here in the bottom picture it's got 2 big wheels and you've got 2 people sitting behind there the wheel punches holes in the plastic pours water in and then the people sitting behind it just push the plants into those holes Ok we've got to keep moving I've got to have a way to watch the time so in the notes here and again I there's no way I can cover everything in the notes in this hour but I've divided it into pre-planned planting. Post planting and winter chores late winter early spring and then harvest and so I'm just going to go through and pick out some of. What I feel are the most important things to emphasize Next slide please. This is the way we plant them it's called the plug this is a beautiful example here this this is the perfect plug plan now we actually start our own plugs and we sell them so if you're anywhere around us we're be happy to supply you with plants in the fall but the beauty of the plastic culture system are one of the beauties of it so 1st thing you you don't have near the struggle with weeds but the 2nd thing is it allows you to plant in the fall so you don't have all summer that you're dealing with a crop that is only causing labor it's not giving you anything and most farmers can't afford to to spurt that kind of labor out all summer and something that's not making them anything so we plant these are planting time and again this is going to vary depending on where you live but for where we are in middle Tennessee the ideal has always been around September 20 but I'm suggesting with climate change and everything that probably should be moved back a few days. And. It's so challenging to try to cover what should be covered in an hour but the key with plants that culture is you are. You are trying to get a certain amount of growth in the fall so if you plant too late that plant doesn't get big enough in the fall if you plant too early the plant gets too big. And that causes another problem and if you have a plant with too many crowns you'll have lots of really tiny fruit come spring and it's a lot of work to harvest you just you want a plant that's the right size so it's where you wish you had the gift of prophecy and could predict the weather so you know you know some years we have really warm hot falls other years it turns cold early so on there those years you'd like to plant a little earlier and. Anyway so this is what we plant now another team with strawberries next slide please is the planting depth this is super critical if you plant where you're covering the crown the plant is at best it's not going to thrive at worst it's going to actually die so the crown is right in the middle there where the new growth comes out so it's super important and you can also plants it too shallow I would always rather err on too shallow than too deep but you don't want the roots expose but more importantly you do not want the crown covered Yeah again there's a lot of things I can't cover in the time here but it I tried to be pretty thorough on this sheet so if if I'm not talking about it hopefully you will get it on the sheets so after planting one of the 1st things we want to do next slide is put up our dear fence. Because as I said deer will destroy you know they will eat the leaves off the strawberry plant and basically what happens when it has no leaves it has no way to photosynthesize it's it's going to totally slow the growth down and you're not going to get the right size plants come spring so what we use is it's called different things in some places call invisible deer fencing as you can see if you're back a little ways you probably can't hardly even see that it's a mesh. I don't even know I guess 2 or 3 inch square mesh the trade name is 10 x. sense of flex Now I will warn you people will try to sell you this really flimsy little bird netting forget it I mean the deer don't even know they've run into it they'll just walk right through it but I can tell you this works we've been using it for 20 years. And we've never had a deer get in if the fences closed up now sometimes we forget to close it up and they will find a way in they're there they're all around but it works amazingly well and we've come up with this really simple system that we think is so wonderful everybody should be using it just 8 foot t. posts pounded in. And then we put one little electric fence insulator at the top and just clip the fence and you probably can't see in this picture so the fence is 7 and a half feet tall so it's it's taller than the 8 foot t. posts once you pounded in so it comes down and then goes out on the ground and that's important because the deer can go under but by by having it out like that they can't really really push under and like I say it's been 100 percent effective for the you know the only way they would get in is if they were startled and they didn't know it was there and they just you know they could break it if they were running full force but there's different there's different thicknesses and I would encourage you to get the thickest you can afford. We've had some of the same deer fencing for all 20 years so it is long lasting it will cost you. Around $200.00 for a $330.00 foot roll. So it's actually in my opinion one of the the the cheapest fences the only thing I think cheaper is electric and you can do electric fences that will keep deer out but you have to know what you're doing in the fence has to keep working and so this the thing we love about this and I don't want to get too sidetracked with this but to me that this is a real key here. A lot of people put up permanent fencing and there's nothing wrong with that except Number one it can be very expensive Number 2 it has to be maintained and maintaining a fence row can be a lot of work. So with this we put it around the things we know the deer like and everything else is in the open you know deer don't bother our bras and because I mean they might nibble a little bit but they're not going to fool with that we know what they like they like carrots they like the China Poti a ca family all your spinach in Swiss chard. They they like sweet potatoes and green beans and they love strawberries so those are the main crops that we fence so when it comes to maintaining the fence line you just lifted up and hook it on the top and mower we need under it and then drop it back down super simple we love it it takes us you know maybe an hour at the most probably I mean if we're pushing it to a. Half hour to 45 minutes to put up a fence around the fields and then the same amount of time to take it down and roll it up at the end of the season. Ok let's go to the next picture this is a feel look like last week and you're probably looking at it and saying wow that looks kind of sad but actually I'm looking at it and saying you know I'm happy about that field right there so a few things I wanted to point out number one in the aisles at you know after 20 years of doing this I'm still trying to figure out how to handle the aisles it's a real perennial frustration to me because when you use plastic you know how are you what do you do with the aisles we've tried everything from doing nothing and then you got to mow the weeds come spring but once the strawberries start spilling over the edge you're smashing strawberries with your mower you can't we meet because you don't want to splatter weeds all over your berries so this is the best we've come up with we plant spring oats now no spring it's there's a difference I've learned all this the hard way so I'm trying to help you avoid it replant spring notes after we make the bed before we punch the holes we just broadcast it and then we have to blow it we use a leaf blower to blow all the seed off the plastic into the aisles the spring outs grow nice in lush in the fall and then come winter time if we have winter time I'm starting to wonder about that but come winter time you get temperatures below 20 and the spring oats will winter kill. So that's what's happened here you can see the residue of the spring oats so they they effectively blocked a lot of the weeds in the fall this the fall weeds from growing so there's not much in the way of weeds there now is bare so ideally we will cover that with the straw mulch come spring now why not just put the straw mulch on in the fall well because straw mulch has lots of wheat seeds in it and you'll end up with a whole crop of wheat in your aisles I see some people. Have experienced this on their own so that's how we're dealing with it. Also you'll notice some weeds here in the holes you know just because you've got plastic doesn't mean you're not going to have some weeds it's really important the main weeds we have in the field are hens bit it's a winter we need and sometimes chickweed. You want to get that out we need to get that out before the plants kind of explode in March so that's definitely something we will be working on soon now also you may notice we are experimenting putting a row of garlic down the center of the bed you know as I said we're trying to use as little plastic as possible garlic is a great. It has the same time period basically as strawberries so we're trying to double crop we did a little bit last spring what we did notice and we're going to have to work on this spring is we've got to bump up our fertility a little bit because of that added You know the garlics taking it off. So we need to put a little more nitrogen on there. Ok so all I'm really worried at about at this point is Crown size so I'm going to show you a picture here let's see if this oh wow technology is wonderful when it works so this is a picture of one of the crowns there. And I'm happy with that here's here's your main crayon but you'll notice 12 and it's hard to see it this Ingle but tree branch crowns so for this time of year I'm very happy with that you know the role that I learned early on was to branch crowns by Thanksgiving that's ideal if that's the average size of your plants you're good going into the winter. What time the sense at 1030. Ok so this is what you're really trying to monitor now how do you you know how do you deal with that I mean how do you change that well there is there is a key here strawberries the ideal temperatures for strawberries are daytime temperatures in the 70 nighttime temperatures in the fifty's which is what they have all summer in wants and Bill right isn't that where they grow the strawberries so. So there strawberries go all summer long out there they can get $70000.00 pounds to an acre out in California or more. So for us we plant them in the fall if it's really a hot fall we can't do much about controlling that except making sure that they stay well irrigated and hydrated you know just try to baby them the best we can. If it's a cool fall if the temperatures start going below that ideal you know is so seventy's day time fifty's nighttime that's kind of October for us normally so that's perfect if it's a normal fall which again I'm not sure if we know what that is anymore then then things are great but if it's a cool fall and the temperatures are not getting up to 70 as in the daytime and they're cooler than fifty's that night then we can put a rope hover over them a floating row cover and try to bump the temperatures up a little bit under there so that is how you can you can. I don't like the word manipulate. I can't think of a better word you can manipulate the growth of the strawberries to some extent. Enhanced. Sounds much. Much more natural or something so here's a picture again this is taken last week the picture on the left is before what we call sanitation Now ideally I would have gone through the field in November in the ideal world we go through November and again the end of February sanitizing taking off in this picture you'll notice there's runners we had excess of running this fall because it was so warm you know ideally you the plants will put out very few runners in the fall and so you don't have to deal with that but we need to take all those off because that's you know they don't have anywhere to go on plastic and there you're just trying to get any dead tissue off and you know dead leaves we've taken all those off so here you see there's no weeds and all the runners are taken in any deadly but we don't want to take off too many leaves so we have you know all this all this dead stuff you're seeing or partially dead leaves that's just winter injury that's you know that's normal we had that big cold event in November where it got really cold and so the plant you know they they took it and this is the result of that but again we're not we're not too concerned about that right now because we've got healthy crowns and that's that's what really counts they're going to replace all those leaves come March it's amazing how they explode. So I don't know how well you can see this picture. You know people ask do you have to cover them in the fall Ideally you don't cover them if you've gotten the size you want in the fall you want them to go dormant in the wintertime and if you keep them covered all winter many times they won't really go into dormancy and then you're going to have flowers when you don't want them so the exception to that rule so so again in the ideal world you get your growth in October maybe the beginning of November and then it starts getting cold and it just slowly gets colder and colder and the plants just kind of go to sleep so to speak. The problem is we don't live in the ideal world and so you have these quick cold events come true when the plants are still Lashon growing well and that can do damage and so here you see a crown that was cut open and it's discolored That's from coal damage so it didn't kill the plant but that plant is not going to produce as much in the spring because of that now I'm kind of anxious to see what happens because we were actually in Romania in November when that cold came through and I the communication lines were not good and so my son was back home saying do I need to cover the strawberries and I made the call that I didn't think they needed to be covered but I kind of wish they had been covered so we'll see but. Anyway they go into the winter dormant or ideally they go in the winter dormant and then they'll stay there hell and of February beginning of March. But again with the weird weather we have these days what often happens is you get these warm spells in the wintertime and then you start getting flower buds starting to come out of the Crown and that's a bad thing because what's going to happen when the next real cold event comes along this flower but is frozen so it's going to die and you've got dead tissue here in the center of the Crown and that's a bad thing we'll talk about just a minute here so you want to do whatever you can and there's only so much you can do to keep those plants from flowering in the winter. And you know back to to planting dates I don't think I finish saying that if you're south of us you're going to want to plant later in the fall. Scuse me if you're north of us obviously you're going to want to plant earlier in the fall where in middle Tennessee so I'm not sure how they do it here and in Florida Bob went I mean I guess they because they start picking in February right so when do they plant Ok. Wow Ok so here's somebody who knows so the end of October in Florida Ok so I'm guessing it depends on when they're trying to get their crop you know obviously when they start Plant City I think you know they start in February so they're probably planting earlier in the are really Jan. Ok so they're already picking Yeah well you know I'm not from Florida so I'm not familiar with that but so the point is simply you've gotta figure out the timing for your local area Ok let's move on here Ok so we're going to talk about a few things that can be real issues with when strawberries look at this cute little guy what could something so cute what harm could they do. Voles. Voles can be a big issue with strawberries especially if you are using row covers because they love that protection anything to hide under so they will go crazy with row cover or psychologist heart they love it under there so they're they're not good because number one in the spring they can eat the fruit but here you see some of their tunnels they will actually go down and tumble down a row and just eat the roots off of each plant and you come in there and all the sudden your plants are wilted Is that what's going on and you go and the plant just comes up because it has no roots at all so fortunately we have never had a huge problem but we deal with it many we have a number of dogs we've got cat. We and the other thing I say here is you've got to keep the area around your fields free of vegetation you don't want stuff growing up around your fields because that's all hiding places for these things you've got to keep it clean around don't leave your road cover piled up out there. And that can discourage them because you know if they don't have a place to hide then you've got out in the night time in the hocks in the day and all these things that will help. And again certain kinds of dogs boy they love bowls the challenge there is you know which is doing more damage. Got Away out the pros and cons. Ok. Well so so as far as pests you've got bowls and you've got deer those are the 2 biggest challenges we've had as far as pest pressure. And you know I can say we have never really had insect pressure that we felt was I mean there's always some but we've never felt like we had economic damage from insects. The only exception to that is if you try to grow them in tunnels we have had in everybody I know who grows in tunnels has spider mite problems if you grow it in tunnels so you just have to be aware of that and spider mites or something it's very hard to see unless you know what you're looking for and they can do a lot of damage before you're really aware that you have that issue so you do need to be able to monitor for that but this is a big one who knows what this is by trying to. If you have strong berries you're going to have by try to that's just the reality so it's a matter of trying to control so by trying to grows undead plant tissue and not just dead plant tissue Obviously this was a good fruit there but I could how would you say it I mean that's where it. Lives Yeah some oyster moisture is the big issue here so 1st of all that's that's a big reason why we sanitize in the fall and spring you're trying to keep that any dead tissue which might be harboring but try to spores off the plant. And you'll see in this picture maybe you can see some Crown Rock from but try to this and so that going back to your dead flower in the crown that's where you can have some real issues because you'll get the crown running out from but try to so you really want to if you have to you know if those plants are starting to put out little flower buds before they should you know you may have to really kind of dig down in there and get that stuff out otherwise you can have major issues and it can get on the fruit as well so the key here is more ice or well dead plant tissue and moisture so again you know sometimes there's not a lot you can do about that but you don't Ideally you don't want to be picking the field when it's wet that's a no no if at all possible and keeping the berries dry. You know whether that's praying asking God for mercy or one thing we did this year that we were really happy with the results we planned to do it again this coming well this spring is using Caterpillar tunnels so we don't you know we're we don't feel like it's necessary to have them up all winter but here in another month or so will wreck Caterpillar tunnels over we have enough tunnels to cover half of our strawberry production as kind of an insurance number one they'll start producing. I mean this year we didn't even have ns on the tunnels so it was open it just had plastic over it and they started producing 10 days before anything else so it can you get an earlier crop and this brings me to another thing another what I consider an advantage to plastic culture plastic culture is. Is going to get you started earlier in the spring the things that shut down strawberry production is the heat so it's hard it's harder to extend the season on the back in that makes sense so if you can extended on the front end you've got you've got a lot more berries to pick you know Mr Mosher was talking about you know 2 or 3 weeks season up in Minnesota you know with these we count on starting picking by the 21st of April that's kind of our average 1st pick date and we'll pick till at least the end of May. So you're talking about and we have we have started as early as the 1st week in April depending on spring weather and we have actually pick berries on the 4th of July so plastic culture gives you a longer season Ideally you know again the weather has to cooperate but it pushes the berries earlier Now of course if you know anything about strawberries that poses another challenge by them starting earlier in the spring but let's 1st deal with this one. This is this this is a site that makes the strawberry growers heart sink right children's it just makes you sick to see this because this is the dreaded and track. And it is so bad and it can spread overnight. It's like it's it's like a strawberry growers worst nightmare now. I didn't mention earlier when I showed you the plug plant the kind we recommend the kind we use exclusively is the variety is Chandler there's 2 or 3 varieties that are used in plastic culture is another one Camrose which is more of a shipping Berry but we're very happy with the Chandler as far as the taste as far as the length of the season the size of the berry them out of berries we really really like to Chandler but it does have the Achilles' heel of being. Susceptible to anthrax. And unfortunately these these plants come from from the tips that we propagate in the fall they come from Canada they're trying to have nurseries way up there to stay stay further north than the diseases but it doesn't always happen in so many times or not many times but some years the plants the tips come infected with and through. And as organic growers is very very hard to deal with and threat even conventional growers have a hard time dealing with and 3. They have to spray heavily in they still have losses so this if you see this you really need to get on your knees because you're in big trouble it can get on the green fruit you can also see it sometimes on the the stem you'll get these black lesions on the stems basically all you can do is try to get rid of it so as soon as you see it on a plant you get your garbage bag out there and you're taking those plants out and you want to be super super careful about infecting other plants so you're not only taking out that plant but all the plants around so you can see how if you have a small patch. It can wipe you out overnight and unfortunately the children's lost most of their crop I don't know the barkers are here. Ok both the Barkers and children's because they got plant infected plants from a supplier. They lost most of their crop this spring it was not a pretty picture at all. Fortunately the supplier we're getting from and now they're getting from as well as coming from Prince Edward Island and they have never to this point had that issue within 3 so you know that could change but that's the reality Ok oh well we're out of time. Ok son Skaro can be an issue so just quickly. So you're you're pushing them early in the spring up against the cold so you've got to deal with frost now in your handouts I'll just have to point you back to your handouts because I don't have time to cover it all in your hand out there's some links to some really good resources out of North Carolina both on just the whole plastic culture system and also specifically on Frost protect you basically have 2 options irrigation or road cover. Either can work we like to have both as insurance so this is what you don't want to see come spring is very that have been killed by frost and also just know cold weather will cause deform berries you'll have more a higher percentage of deformed berries in the early spring but don't throw them away those are some of the best tasting berries we've learned over the years. So when. With irrigation we use the scent injure wobbler we love it we've been using it for years and years and this is all we use for all of our vegetable crops as far as overhead irrigation it works incredibly well for frost protection we don't have time to go into how to do this I would not recommend this for a home gardener I think you're better off with row cover so with a row cover you know ideally you have to know what the temperature is broke and there are ways to do that with with. Thermometers you know thermocouple where you put them under the under the rock cover but you need to know how many layers because one layer will not always be enough to protect them so then you start doubling or tripling and you can do a very effective job of protecting plants from Frost just with rogue cover but again you know if you don't know what the temperature is under there you're always going to want to err on the side of too much row cover rather than not enough but you've got to take it off as soon as as it warms up in the morning because you want the bees on those flowers the pollen and everything Ok Well we've got quite a bit of stuff is a whole lot more we needed to get through but we'll end by asking you the question Are you ready to bite this off it's you've got to weigh it I'm not telling you to go out and grow stronger areas because we have a lot of years of trial and error but it's a great crop you know. Talk about eating like kings and queens we figure we eat about $48.00 of strawberries in a meal come spring time you know. We feel like kings and queens bring this media was brought to you by audio groups a Web site dedicated to spreading God's word through free sermon audio and much more if you would like to know more about audio version or you would like to listen to more sermon please visit w w w dot audio Verse dot org.


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