This week we’re planting our day-neutral strawberries! Thinking about those deliciously juicy and fragrant berries is such a treat on a dreary day like today, and we’re leaning hard into the memory of that taste to help us through the rest of this month!
Day-neutral strawberries, also sometimes called everbearing strawberries, are a variety of berries that are just that – day neutral. Conventional strawberries (the ones typically available for just the month of June, commonly called “June berries”) respond to the length of daylight. We’re planting these berries next week, and we’ll fill you in on that process then! Once the days get too long, and the sun gets too hot, the conventional strawberry plants stop producing fruit. On the other hand, day-neutral berries have no such response, and will continuously produce berries from July through to the first fall frost, which is usually not until October, if we’re lucky!
Our day-neutral strawberry plants come to us all the way from California. There is a special growing and breeding program there that focuses on these day-neutral varieties. The variety we plant is called Albion. There are other options too, but we’ve had good luck with Albion and customers seem to like it! We receive the plants when they are just 2 inches tall. We plant the day-neutral strawberries as early as possible in the spring, once the risk of spring frost has passed. To plant them, holes are poked in a staggered pattern, to allow for adequate plant growth, in our bedded & plastic-covered fields (remember the bedding we talked about last week?). From there, a field worker walks along the rows and gently drops a plant in front of each hole. Another field worker follows, and places the plant into the hole, using a spade to guide it in, cover it with soil, and ensure it’s secure.
Right after planting, we irrigate the plants. This may seem funny, given the rain we’ve gotten recently, but research has shown that a burst of irrigation immediately following planting directly relates to improved production. It helps the plant “set”, or helps the dirt settle in around the roots.
After planting, the plants hang out in the field until July, when they will begin to produce berries. We will continue to harvest from these plants until that fall frost that I mentioned earlier, and we’ll get another small harvest next spring.
Strawberries are perennial plants, which means that they can survive through the winter and produce fruit again once the soil warms in the spring and the plants revitalize. To help them make it through the cold months, we’ll cover them up with a big old berry blanket. This blanket, along with the snow that falls on top of it, will provide a protective layer of insulation.
After that, we repeat the process all over again, with new plants, more planting, and another harvest. Some farmers do things slightly differently: some plant in the fall, some only keep the plants for one season, and some try to extend it further (this can lead to production issues such as bushy plants and disease, though!)
Overall, growing strawberries a labour-intensive process, and takes a lot of planning, time, and energy. But we have to say, it’s so worth it. We can’t wait for the first taste of fresh-from-the-field strawberries!
Speaking of taste, there are a few key differences between June berries and day-neutral berries. Personally? I prefer the day-neutrals. This raises quite the controversy when I’m chatting with farmers’ market customers, but honestly it’s true! Day-neutral berries are more firm, so they last longer in the fridge and don’t squish as easily. This feature can also come in handy for jam-making, as it gives you jam that sets better, and is less runny. I also absolutely love the flavour of the day-neutrals. It’s hard to explain, so you’ll just have to try them yourself!
Well, that’s it for now! Check in with us next week to learn about the life cycle of conventional berries!
Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD
Strawberry photo credit to 2018 Marketeer Brie