( Originally Published 1909 )
PERHAPS no fruit has been more written about than the strawberry. Its popularity increases constantly, because those who have gardens find on trial that they can grow it very satisfactorily, if not to perfection.
Nearly every amateur who begins straw-berry cultivation feels in duty bound to "read up" about it before making a start, and so voluminous is our literature along this line that after he has read several "Books on the Strawberry" he is more at a loss as to what to do than he was before he began his investigations, because almost every author advises his own particular method as the method par excellence, and the beginner does not consider himself competent to decide between those who set themselves up as authority. This is not to be wondered at, for growers and writers differ greatly about some features of straw-berry growing. This difference, I am inclined to think, is largely the results of a difference in location and soil, which fact the writers have ignored to a considerable extent, laying stress on method more than anything else.
The fact is, the strawberry is a plant that will do comparatively well under almost any culture, provided it really is culture. Simply setting out plants and letting them take care of themselves after that is not culture. Culture means care and attention, and if the straw-berry is given even a small amount of either it will do better than almost anything else that can be grown in the home garden. This I have satisfied myself of from several years of personal experience and observation.
So elaborate are the instructions given by some writers on this fruit that the amateur cannot be expected to follow them, because he cannot give all his time to one phase of gardening, as he would be obliged to do if he were to set out to grow strawberries according to some of the so-called scientific methods. The writer of this book once attempted to do that, but he soon came to the conclusion that a common-sense. method was preferable, and he has been very well satisfied with the result.
The instructions which follow tell how he has grown this delicious fruit for a good many years in his own garden. They do not claim to be scientific in any sense of the term—just sensible, from the standpoint of, the home gardener.
I would advise making the strawberry bed in spring, because the plants will have all the season to grow in and will attain a fine condition for giving a full crop the following season. If set out in fall—as they can be, to good ad-vantage, if the work cannot be done in spring—they will give a partial crop the next season, but not a full crop until the following year.
In getting the ground ready for the reception of plants, plow or spade it well, and work the soil over until it is fine and mellow, incorporating with it a generous amount of well-rotted barnyard-manure, or, in case you cannot obtain this, such fertilizers as those who are familiar with the soil in your locality think are needed. It is necessary that the soil be quite rich if you want a strong development of plants, and a good crop of fruit depends largely on this. On no account make use of fresh manure.
Lay the plantation off into rows at least three feet apart. Four would be better, if you can spare the ground. Set the plants at least eighteen inches apart in the row. A good many persons advise a foot, but I have found that plants set as closely as that are pretty sure to crowd each other, if they make a strong growth, and this is something to guard against while they are making their first season's development. Plant farther apart and you will get more and finer fruit from a less number of plants than you would from a larger number closely set.
In setting the plants be very careful to do good work, as much depends on the start they get early in the season, and, if carelessly planted, they will be a long time in getting thoroughly established. It does not take long to set them out in a haphazard way, but the plants will lose a thousand-fold more time by that method of planting than you will gain. Well-set plants will begin to grow right away, and as they will have none of the difficulties of poor planting to overcome their development will be rapid from the start. Spread out their roots as evenly and naturally as possible, and make the soil firm about them by pressing it down with the foot. Cut away all bruised and diseased leaves at the time of planting, and, if the plants have been long out of the ground, shorten their roots somewhat. This can be rapidly and easily done by gathering them together in the left hand, holding them in a compact bunch, and clipping off their tips squarely with a sharp knife or the pruning-shears. If this is done, the shortened roots will soon send out feeders from their tips, and the plants will get a much stronger and speedier start than they would if planted with the old more or less mutilated roots left in the condition in which they were sent out by the grower. This is true of almost all plants grown from a division of the roots.
If the plants are quite dry when received, place them in a pan of water for a short time before planting,
If you procure your plants from a friend and must carry them some distance, either puddle their roots by dipping them in a mixture of clay and water of the consistency of cream, or pack them in damp moss. Care should always be taken to keep the roots of strawberry plants moist from lifting to planting time.
Early in the season the plants will begin to throw out runners. Go along the rows, at least once a week, and with a sharp spade cut off every runner that reaches over a foot from the plant into the row. Those in the row need not be interfered with.
After cutting the runners away from the plants, go between the rows with the garden cultivator and uproot every plant that has begun to establish itself there. Keep the ground well stirred and wholly free from weeds. This is easily done if the cultivator is kepi going throughout the season.
Clipping off the ends of the runners will throw the strength of the plant into the development of itself, and the result will be strong, sturdy specimens at the close of the season, from which a good crop of fruit can reasonably be expected the next summer.
The above gives the treatment I would advise for the first year.
The second year, after the crop has been gathered, I would allow runners to reach out between the rows and take root there. It is highly important that the ground between the rows be well fertilized, frequently cultivated, and kept entirely free from weeds, in order to give these runners a chance to secure a good foothold. After they have begun to throw out roots from their joints, the use of the cultivator can be dispensed with in their immediate locality.
After a sufficient number of plants have gotten started between the rows to furnish as many as you think are needed, cut them loose from the old plants, and then go through the old row with the cultivator, uprooting every plant, or, if you choose to do so, turn them under with the spade. By this method you get a fresh set of roots for fruiting each season and crop them but once, and by allowing them to plant themselves by runner-propagation, you are saved the trouble of preparing new beds. Another advantage gained is that each year the plants are shifted to soil that has not been exhausted by a crop of fruit, but has been made rich for the reception of new plants.
I have grown strawberries in this way, in the same bed for several years in succession. Shifting the rows each year, as described, has kept the plants as strong and healthy as they would have been if set out in entirely new beds. And why should they not be, since they renew themselves each season ?
The work of growing strawberries is greatly simplified by this method, and any amateur can understand it perfectly and see the advantages of it readily.
In fall, cover the plants with coarse hay or straw, but do not use too much or you may smother them. It should not be more than three inches deep. Some advise leaving this on the ground, in spring, to prevent the berries from coming in contact with the soil, but I would prefer taking the chances of their keeping clean without it, as it interferes greatly with the use of the cultivator, and you cannot afford to let the ground go unworked about your plants.
In spring, a liberal amount of good manure should be applied. This should go into the soil close to the roots of the plants.
Some varieties are staminate, some pistillate. Pistillate varieties must have perfect-flowered plants every eight or nine feet in the row, to pollenize them.
There are so many fine sorts on the market that it is not an easy matter to decide which are best. Indeed, it is not possible to decide this matter except in a general way, because some kinds do well in one soil and poorly in another. Before deciding on what kind to plant, ascertain from growers in your neighborhood what sorts they have succeeded with, and be governed largely by their advice.
Among the most popular varieties in general cultivation today are Bederwood, large, early, and a great bearer, Haverland, early and wonderfully productive; Sample, late, large, productive and fine-flavored ; Sharpless, large, rich, and a great mid-season bearer, and Gandy, very late (a comparatively new candidate for popular favor that everyone who has grown it speaks well of). In order to prolong the season, I would advise planting both early and late sorts.