February 18, 2010 at 8:57 a.m.

Have you tried raising strawberries?

Have you tried raising strawberries?
Have you tried raising strawberries?

The next few weeks are a very busy time for the Chisago County Master Gardeners. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 27 and 28 we will have a booth at the Chisago Lakes Home, Garden and Business show at the Chisago Lakes High School. Saturday, March 6 we will have a booth at the North Branch Community Connections at the North Branch High School. At both of these events we will have information about the Bonanza, plant order forms, and the schedule for Spring Class Series.

All this leads up to our 12th Annual 2010 Spring Gardening Bonanza and Town and Country Expo. It will be held on Saturday, March 13, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Chisago Lake Lutheran Church in Center City.

One of the many plants the Chisago County Master Gardeners offer in our plant order forms are strawberries. We offer Annapolis, Glooscap, and Sparkle. Annapolis is an early producer with large fruit that holds its size through later harvest. The berries are light red and good for desserts and freezing. The Glooscap strawberry is a high yielding, early to mid-season bloomer that produces medium to large dark red fruit with good flavor. This variety produces good size initially and high yields with good winter hardiness. Sparkle strawberries have been very popular for years among northern growers because they are so winter hardy. Plants are very productive and dependable, producing glossy, crimson-red berries. They have good quality and flavor and are great fresh or for freezing and preserving.

Strawberries, as most fruit, need a sunny area. The best soil is well-drained loam that is loose enough for the roots to establish a firm stand. The soil should have a pH level of between 5.8 and 6.5. The site is best with a southern slope, providing quick-drying soil and earlier maturing berries. I realize not everyone can have such a site but you should stay away from a low area not only for the drainage but also to decrease the possibility of frost damage.

If a soil test indicates a need for fertilizer you could spread phosphorus and potassium into the soil before planting. In mid-August to early September broad cast nitrogen to aid flower bud formation for the next year. If nitrogen is applied in the spring, it could promote abundant vegetation, hampering good air circulation.

Many gardeners, including me, have given up on strawberries because we couldn't keep the weeds out. It's important to start with a weed free patch and keep the weeds out by hoeing and pulling. If you use hay or straw as a mulch or cover, be sure it is weed free. The main disease that affects strawberries is grey mold. This fungus is the result of wet and muggy weather. It is present in the soil and produces grey, slimy fruit. It can be controlled by good dry conditions and keeping the fruit off the bare soil. A fungicide can also control this disease.

If you want to learn more about strawberries you are invited to attend a class on Growing Strawberries on May 4, 2010 at the Maple Commons Senior Center in North Branch. The class will be given by Jim Birkholz who is the owner and operator of the Pleasant Valley Orchard. Jim and his family have a large apple orchard and also have a pick-your-own strawberry operation. By taking this class you will learn from a commercial grower how to start growing strawberries and how to keep them productive year after year. The class will begin at 6:30 p.m. and the fee is $5 per person. If you need any information on anything in this article call the Extension Office at 651-213-8901.

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