( Originally Published Early 1900's )
" There are three prerequisites to successful strawberry production fertile soil, strong, vigorous, fruitful plants, and thorough cultivation," writes W. H. Burke of St. Joseph county, Michigan. "Anyone who will observe these points in practice may be assured of success. We find that, in order to produce vigorous and fruitful plants, we must keep the soil up to a high state of fertility. To do this, we alternate annually between plants and field or cowpeas or potatoes. The latter are still some what in the experimental state, although giving, as far as we have gone, every promise of complete success. After we have turned under the peas, or dug the potatoes, we cover the land with a good coating of manure, about 18 tons to the acre.
"As to plants, never accept poor ones, even as a gift; they only encumber good ground and destroy the native sweetness of the grower's disposition. It is a waste of land, time, and money to work with anything but perfectly developed plants. Having the land in good tilth, the grower should proceed to get the plants in readiness for setting; that is, to prune them by cutting back about one-third of the roots.
" Thrust a dibble into the ground to the depth of about 6 inches, make an opening large enough to take in all the roots, place these in this opening, with care to see that they are as nearly straight as may be, then remove the dibble, and with it press the soil firmly about the plant, using the fingers to firm the soil about the crown. When set, the crown should appear just above the surface of the ground, the shoulder of the roots being barely covered.
" As soon as the plants are in the ground cultivation should begin. This will check the escape of the moisture in the soil by capillary action. In setting the plants the feet of the setters have left deep tracks, which quickly become the avenues of escape for the imprisoned moisture. The dust mulch made by cultivation closes up this avenue, and the moisture must then find its way to the surface through the roots and leaves of the plant; and this means life, health, and strength for the plant. In a small patch this cultivation may be done by hand with a hoe; in a field of considerable size a hand cultivator may profitably be employed, but in a commercial field a 12 tooth will be found the ideal implement for this work. Go over the field after every rain as soon as the earth becomes crumbly. If it doesn't rain, go over the field once' a week to preserve the dust mulch and thus keep moisture at the roots and bring to the plants a fresh supply of food."
SETTING THE PLANTS
One of the most important things to do in preparing strawberry plants for setting is to trim off the dead leaves and the superfluous roots. This operation is simply done by using a, pair of shears and holding the plants across the palm of the hand, the leaves being held between the thumb and fore-finger, which are placed around the crown and the roots extending beyond the little finger. The shears are then used to snip off all the leaves an inch or so above the hand and all the roots that extend beyond the hand. If the plants are placed carefully in the hand, so that the crowns are all together, a small handful of plants may be trimmed at once.
The principal object in doing this work is to increase the root system. Every cut made on the root will soon callous over and new roots form at that point, and as the leaf surface is reduced there will be a very small amount of moisture, due to transpiration. The work is best done in a shady place away from the wind, and the plants kept covered both before and after the operation. In fact, after the cut is made they may be thrown into pails of water. In setting, a shorter dibble may be used than where the full roots are allowed to re-main. This favors speed in setting.
" In general," says Prof. W. L. Howard of the University of Missouri, "a strawberry fertilizer should contain the three principal elements of plant food in about the following proportions : Nitrogen, 3 per cent; phosphorus, 3 per cent; potassium, 7.5. That is, every 100 pounds of fertilizer should contain 3 pounds of nitrogen, 3 pounds of phosphorus, and 71/2 pounds of potassium. The phosphorus is placed far above the needs of strawberries, because this fertilizer is likely to take insoluble form in the soil. The ammonia is placed low, as top dressings are made in the spring.
"Top dressings are often made in spring, summer, or fall on established strawberry fields, the materials being worked in by cultivation. Never drop fertilizers directly on the plants. If nitrogen above the needs of the plants is used, there will be an excessive leaf growth at the expense of the fruiting. There is not much danger of supplying too much phosphorus or potassium, so far as injury to plants or fruit is concerned, as only what is needed will be used. The rest is wasted.
" If it is impossible to begin a year in advance, nitrogen may be supplied immediately by using nitrate of soda in spring just before setting the plants, at the rate of 100 to 200 pounds to the acre. The same amount of dried blood will also answer the same purpose, but it is not so readily available and is more troublesome to apply, as it must be drilled in deeply, so as to rot. It does not cost as much as the sodium nitrate. Sulphate of ammonia and cottonseed meal also supply nitrogen.
"Phosphorus may be supplied by using steamed bone meal at the rate of 20o pounds to the acre, drilled in the spring. It will cost $28 a ton. Rock phosphate at the rate of 400 to 500 pounds an acre, sown broadcast and plowed under with manure or cowpeas in the fall, as stated, would be very good. Without the decaying pea vines or manure it would not be so efficacious.
"Potash is best supplied by either muriate or sulphate of potash at the rate of 50 to 75 pounds to the acre, applied in spring just before setting the plants. It costs about $52 a ton; Kainit, 200 to 300 pounds to the acre, would answer the same purpose, but it is not so desirable. Ordinary wood ashes may also be used like the other fertilizers, either in the spring before planting or later about the plants. As much as 40 to 50 bushels to the acre may be safely applied at one time."
"My strawberry plants are covered in winter with lowland hay," says S. H. Warner of Middlesex county, Massachusetts. I like the long blue-jointed variety the best It is possible to put it on much more quickly than shorter, finer hay. This covering is raked off about April 1.
" After the fruit is well set short hay is placed in the paths to keep the fruit clean. The plants are set in September and October. The narrow rows are covered with forest leaves and sprinkled with a little earth to keep the plants in place. They make a good cover, but should be parted over the crowns as soon as the plants begin to grow.
" Some people cover with pine boughs. I have tried them, but do not like them for a cover. In the first place it takes too long to do the work, and, when they are removed, in the spring, if the weather is cold many of the plants are hurt unless the branches are taken off very early. The plants start to grow early, and spindle up under this cover more than under hay, and are very tender.
When one is growing plants only for the fruit it is better to cover with short hay. The cover should not be too heavy. It should be put on just too thick to allow one to see the foliage. In April when the plants begin to grow, I go over the beds and loosen up the cover and let the crown grow through the hay. On high land I use about 1 1/2 tons to the acre. On low land, which heaves more, about three tons to the acre are spread. I do not wait for the ground to freeze, as I formerly did, but cover the beds during the first two weeks of November.
" The operation of mulching in strawberry cul ture, says R. B. Rushing of Illinois, serves different purposes, depending upon the locality in which the plants are grown. A mulch acts as a protection from cold, prevents freezing and thawing and the consequent lifting of the plants.' It retards growth in cold regions by shading the crowns and maintaining a low soil temperature longer than in soil not mulched. It acts as a conserver of moisture, retards weed growth by smothering the young seedlings and finally protects the fruit from contact with the soil.
" The materials which can be used for mulching are various, but their value depends largely upon their freedom from weed seeds and their fitness to protect the plants without smothering them. Whole or cut straw free from grains, strawy manure from the horse stable, and pine straw from the forest are among the more common mulching materials. I always use wheat straw, as it has given me good satisfaction. However, almost any material that will protect the plants will do.
"Experience has taught me that where the ground freezes and thaws several times in the course of the winter, it is best to put on the mulch as soon as the ground is sufficiently frozen to allow driving upon it with a loaded cart or wagon. Where the freezing of the soil is only superficial or only temporary, if at all, the mulch serves the purpose of a protection from the wind more than from frost, and in such sections the mulch should be put on as soon as active growth ceases. Sometimes it is allowed to remain until after the crop is harvested." I sometimes remove the mulch early and give the plants thorough cultivation before the fruits are more than half grown ; then, if it seems desirable to protect the fruit from the earth, the mulch is replaced for, that purpose."
As to mulching strawberries, W. W. Farnsworth of Lucas county, Ohio, says: "Our Michigan friends do not mulch strawberries as much as we do, and they have more snow. Their principal market is Chicago, where they find that early berries bring the best prices. The strawberry not mulched will ripen several days earlier than the mulched ones, so a great many having sandy soil do not mulch. Mr. Welch of Douglas plants rows of corn through the strawberries, every three or four rows, I think. He lets the stalks stand, and if they do so, fall over. This protects from the wind, and catches the snow, and at the same time it acts as a mulch. Of this it can be said that it does not rob the soil of moisture as do oats and barley when used as mulch."
Picking strawberries on my place," writes J. F. Thomas of Cambria county, Pennsylvania, "usually begins about June 15 or 20 and continues through the first week in July, and sometimes later. In some instances largest pickings were made on and after July 4. Boys and girls of neighboring families make up the picking force, 1 1/2 cents a quart basket is the price paid for picking. Pickers are required to grade berries carefully. The largest and most shapely berries go into the first, and smaller ones, as well as large, ill-shaped specimens, compose the second grade.
" When picking has been kept back by wet weather, and there are many soft berries, there is a third grade made which is used for wine, etc. As nearly all the fruit is sold in nearby local markets, there is no necessity for storage facilities. Most of the berries are on sale within an hour after picking. The crop is nearly all retailed from wagon direct to customers. The second grade is sold at about 2 cents less than first grade, and is popular for canning, jam, etc. They are considered more desirable than larger berries shipped in from the south and east, being firmer, of better flavor, and almost entirely free from sand. All sorting and selling is done on the square. Baskets are filled, shaken down, and topped out before packing in crate. Bubach and Glen Mary are the most profitable varieties yet tried. The market here demands large-sized berries, and the two mentioned meet the requirements.
" On account of the late frosts the cultivation of early varieties is not profitable. An experimental patch is continued from year to year in which the newer varieties are grown and watched. After picking is over, the mulch is raked and stacked for use another season. The ground is plowed deeply and sown to Canada field peas, to be turned under in fall for berry patch or other crop the next year."
THE FRUITED BED
" As soon as we are done picking," writes Mathew Crawford of Cuyahoga county, Ohio, "we plow the bed and harrow it, then sow it to cowpeas and harrow it again. This is the most satisfactory method that we have tried. It destroys insect enemies and fungous diseases before they get well established. The land may be planted to strawberries the next season. Since adopting this plan we have rarely seen any necessity for spraying.
I. A. Thayer of Lawrence county, Pennsylvania, handles his bed differently. He writes : " As soon as the last picker is out of the field, I run the mower over the strawberry bed to clip the tops. After they have dried a day, I shake up the straw mulch and when a breeze arises, fire the straw on the windward side. Then, if I am to fruit the field another season, I run a small plow within 4 or 5 inches of the plants, and not more than 4 inches deep. Into this furrow I put what fertilizer I am to use, usually half rotted stable manure, super-phosphate and sulphate of potash, and cultivate the earth back upon it. Then I give frequent cultivation and clipping of the runners so long as the ground can be worked in the fall.