Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Strawberry Patch Instead of Grass

Bull pen 2003
        Once upon a time, this was the bull pen, home for the massive creature who sired my father-in-law's herd of Black Angus cattle. When we moved here, it hadn't been used for anything for years and was chocked with weeds and trees so that the metal barn in the background was hidden from view. Wire from the fence lay half buried in a foot of partially composted grass. Tendrils from a gone-crazy wisteria vine were everywhere. I remember looking at the whole area many times, thinking that I'd never be able to clear out all those big trees and do anything useful here.
Bull pen 2011.  The only thing recognizable is the post on the left.
       Miracles do happen.
       I never intended any of this to go to grass. My initial goal was simply to get rid of an eyesore. The first section I cleared became the strawberry patch, which produced about 125 pounds this year. I admit that this is the first decent crop I've gotten. I believe the reason for the improved production was that last year I adjusted the soil pH and side dressed the rows with compost.  
      My plants are June-bearing, which require a yearly renovation after the harvest.  Renovation involves four steps: mowing the tops, tilling the rows, thinning the plants, and fertilizing.  For the first three steps, I I use a shovel and clippers.  It takes longer, but it's quieter and, I suspect, less stressful to the plants as well as to me.  Removing the tops reduces mold and promotes new growth.  The rows should be "tilled" to about ten inches wide.  Plants within the row shouldn't be closer together than four inches. I use straw to mulch between the rows.  This eliminates most weeding, except that I get a lot of volunteer wheat, which is much easier to pull out than pig weed, mallow, and a lot of other weeds I could name.  I'm not real obsessed with pulling it as summer germinating wheat won't survive a Michigan winter.

 Renovated strawberry patch in late July.
      Instead of compost, this year I used12-12-12 fertilizer at the rate of two to three pounds per 100 feet of row.  Now all that remains is to keep the patch watered and weeded, and to train the new growth into rows.  Well, not quite all.  A straw mulch during the winter is a good idea.      
        I read somewhere that the size of the strawberry crop is determined in September of the year before the harvest, so it's important to do the renovation as soon as the year's crop is finished and to keep the patch well watered.
       The patch has been in this spot for several years.  Won't be long before I'm going to have to give serious consideration to relocating it.  Darn, just when it's looking so good!

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