Succulent Sweet Strawberries

European palates had to await the discovery of America to revel in the flavor of the wild Virginia strawberry.  300 years later some unknown cook combined strawberries, sugar, and cream which became the luxury dessert of the 19th century.  Those gigantic “Mexican” strawberries we buy from the grocery stores come from June Bearing descendants of the humble wild Virginia originals.

I started my Lantana strawberry patch by accident after I tossed scraps from quarts of cleaned fruit into my compost heap.  I spread my unfinished compost around the garden later that summer, and by spring strawberry plants had sprouted willy-nilly.  I transplanted these volunteer “crowns” in bundles of four plants about 12 inches apart in orderly rows.  By the fall they had spread out of control in half of one garden bed.  June-bearing plants are the rabbits of the strawberry world!

If you are a stickler for propriety you can purchase strawberry plants from most garden suppliers, but be prepared to put out some money.  You need a lot of plants to get a quart of strawberries in one cutting.

There are varieties that put out few runners so consider the cost of replenishing your stock of plants because they only produce substantial fruit during their second year of life.

All strawberries like north central Texas’ full summer sun, but their roots like cooler temperatures. Mulching is a must.

They also like 1-2 inches of water a day during their season, so plant smart by mixing LOTS of organic matter–compost or well rotted (no smell) manure–in the soil under the mulch.  Professionals recommend we plant the rows 3-4 feet apart.  I planted mine about 18 inches apart which gave me room to crow hop between them.

I planted green and bulb onions in the irrigation ditch between the rows.  Consider planting peas and beans between strawberry rows too.

Mulch does two things for strawberry plants, (a) it cools the ground around the roots, and (b) it keeps the berries off the damp soil while they ripen to that succulent ruby red color that calls out, “Pick me!”

To keep the number of June-bearing plants under control and to encourage fruiting, cut off the runners once a week all summer.  Any scissors will work.  Cut the runners off that their base.  Throw the runners in the compost heap.

In the autumn I let one set of new runners form and root into new small plants which I use to replenish my stock of plants the next spring.  If you want more plants, save more runners.  It is okay to position the tip of a runner to root where you want it to grow.  New plants, rooted or not, transplant with ease as long as you keep the soil wet for them.

A word to the wise:  strawberries turn sweet when they turn red.  Pink berries are not sweet berries so resist the urge to pick them too early.

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