Life thrives in the garden, each seedling, leaf, and berry revealing a microcosm of nature’s brilliant design. As sunlight filters through emerald leaves, roots delve deep into the nurturing earth, imbibing it of its invaluable nutrients. Such poetic intricacies form the quintessential backdrop of one of nature’s most beloved fruits – the strawberry.
As a glistening red berry punctuated with tiny seeds, it enchants us not only with its aesthetic appeal but also with its vibrant, tangy sweetness. And what could be better than having an unlimited supply of these deliciously sweet, homegrown strawberries right in your backyard, far removed from the chemical interventions of commercial farming?
Welcome to the world of organic gardening – a sphere where the essence of nature is captured in its purest form, devoid of artificial additives and pesticides. This guide aims to unveil the rewarding process of cultivating your very own organic strawberries at home. Drawing upon my expertise in agricultural sciences and deep understanding of sustainable practices, I’ll lead you through the process of preparing your garden, choosing the right strawberry varieties, nurturing your plants, and finally, enjoying the literal fruits of your labor.
Growing organic strawberries is not just about the tangy, sweet flavor that enlivens your summer desserts, but also about participating in a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.
Together, let’s immerse ourselves in the tantalizing journey of strawberries, from the first sprouting seedlings to the plump, red fruits ripe for the picking. Here’s to empowering ourselves and our kitchens, one organic strawberry at a time!
Understanding the Basics of Strawberry Plant Care
Strawberry plants are a relatively hardy plant that grows well in many parts of North America and Europe with similar results in the southern hemisphere at equivalent latitudes.
Our green friends, the strawberry plant, grow relatively low to the soil, they like well-draining soil with a decent amount of decaying matter. I’ll go into a lot more detail later in this guide. For now, just know that they are decent hardy little plants I grow in Southern Ontario, Canada, to give you an idea of the climate – think New York (we’re basically the same for weather).
To care for a strawberry is simple, give it sun, well-draining soil, water each time the soil dries out, and add some hay or other element when it starts flowering so the fruit aren’t sitting in the dirt.
I’ll dive into detail with every aspect of Strawberry plant growing, but for now I’d like to distinguish the difference between organic and non-organic. Let’s look at the seven top reasons why you should consider organic strawberries.
Benefits of Organic Strawberries
Many people believe organic strawberries taste better. This could be due to the slower, more natural growth which allows for the development of a richer array of flavors and sugars.
Organic strawberries do not get sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. That is, after all, kind of the point of organic – you don’t introduce nasty’s like carcinogen (cancer causing) glyphosate into your body. Common herbicides like (those I shall not mention that are sold in every hardware store) use glyphosate. It’s one of the reasons I switched to organic, home-grown – because it’s the only way you eat healthy (and not get lied to about safety).
Growing organic foods is an environmentally friendly process. Remember, it doesn’t rely on the use of chemicals, so you have to enrich the soil naturally, with compost and such, made also from organic sources.
For a balanced soil with year over year returns, you need to not only care for the soil quality, but you also have to plant companion plants. Companion planting is a way of deterring certain pests, while promoting the growth of the plants you want. Furthermore, by its very nature, companion planting promotes biodiversity. Although, I feel it also promotes exposure to the concepts of balance. As we notice certain types of plants need other types of plants to survive in a mutually beneficial environment. We (humans) have a lot to learn here.
Reduces Exposure to (and, of) GMOs
Genetically modified organisms are, in my opinion, an experiment. They were only introduced in 1994. That’s only 29 years. I’d like to remind you that according to science, our species only evolved around 300,000 years ago, with some stating our modern behavioral patterns started more like 50,000 to 65,000 years ago.
To put things in perspective, 29 years is only 0.000058 to 0.00058 percent of our recent evolutionary history. The truth is that the ‘technology’ is so young, we don’t really have enough evidence to support whether or not it was or is a good idea.
In contrast, we have more than enough evidence to support organic food and its health benefits. We’re here, after all.
Self-Sufficiency & Sustainability
What really attracted me to organic growing was the self-sufficiency and sustainability factors. I mean, there’s something special about walking into a grocery and seeing the prices, and realizing just how much food you have at home. Furthermore, by relying on your own abilities to feed yourself, you take your need away from paying corporations for your right to live. It enables others, less fortunate in their growing abilities, to have access to food.
Education & Enjoyment
If I haven’t made a few solid points yet, then I apologize. However, I think I’ve made it clear that growing your own food is enjoyable. Furthermore, when you start learning about companion planting, gardening tips, tricks, and not least composting and recycling best practices, it’s clear that gardening and growing organic fruit like strawberries is as educational as it is enjoyable.
Understanding Strawberry Plants and Their Lifecycle
Strawberry plants have a six to eight-step lifecycle (depending on how you look at it). Let’s do a quick run-through:
Seed – It’s where it all starts. If you keep seeds stored in a sealed container, as close to vacuum sealed as possible, and in a cool temperature, I’ve had them last as long as 2 years. Furthermore, according to The Strawberry Store, if you freeze them you can get more than two years, but the seed germination rate is less.
Germinating Sprout – The germinating stage is, in my experience, the most critical. The plant’s life essence has escaped the hard seed, but it’s weak and fragile. I like to germinate my strawberries inside. Or, I’ll purchase cut seedlings.
Seedling/Plant – After the weak sprout stage, the seedling plant gets its leaves and its roots fight their way into the Earth. This year (2023) I tried ordering plants that were cut back – basically roots and a stump of a plant, usually around ¼” diameter.
I got mine from Veseys here in Canada. They came as a bunch of roots and stumps and all but 3 survived and are now growing nicely.
Flowering Plant – My favorite stage because it means fruit is on its way. Here’s where you want to let the bees do their thing and ensure you get good fruit.
Fruiting Plant – At this stage, you’ll want to ensure you have straw or something similar to keep the fruit off the dirt. Slugs love to destroy strawberries, and will do so if you don’t keep the fruit off the dirt.
Fruit – My favorite part! Harvest the fruit when it’s a nice healthy red. Don’t harvest too early, sun-ripened are the best. You’ll want to keep the birds and critters away though, because they tend to go after your crop the day before you plan to harvest. That’s my luck anyway, so now I take preventive measures.
Selecting the Right Variety for Your Climate and Soil
All strawberries are pretty hardy, at least, the ones I’ve grown have been. This year I didn’t start with technically organic plants as I ordered roots/stem systems to plant. I am currently growing the Albion Everbearing (the produce all summer) and the Regular Albion which produces big fruit all summer and into fall.
Preparing Your Organic Garden
When growing strawberries, you’ve got some choices to make about where. Like most fruits, strawberries like sunlight. Let’s take a look at a few other considerations.
Choosing the Ideal Location
The location you choose should allow for plenty of sun, but a touch of shade for a few hours is not a big deal either. I find though that the best fruit comes from plants that get full sun, so keep that in mind. Furthermore, you’ll want to ensure it’s not in an area of foot traffic. If you’ve got dogs like I do, you’ll want to fence in the strawberries. A little chicken wire and some bamboo go a long way here.
Preparing the Soil: pH, Drainage, and Fertility
Growing strawberries is easy, if you get the conditions right. For soil, strawberries like a slightly acidic soil, rich in organic decaying matter, and well-draining. Here’s the mix I find works best:
- ⅛ sand
- ⅛ peat moss/sphagnum
- ¼ black rich loam
- ½ premium rich organic garden soil
- Top with mulch and once flowering, add straw on top of the mulch to keep your berries clean
This year I’m putting my strawberries in pots. The big difference from previous potted growth years is that I’m trying the fabric grow bags. I found some decent ones in beige, so they don’t get overheated like the black ones do.
Implementing Organic Matter and Compost
As mentioned above, strawberries like a nice and fertilized soil, so don’t worry about adding some 2nd year compost. I don’t like to add too much super fresh compost or manure as I don’t want to burn the roots, but I find second-year compost to be fantastic.
Planning Your Garden: Beds, Rows, or Containers?
Strawberries like direct sun, and they don’t do as well as some other plants by overplanting, so it’s best to keep them at least a foot apart. However, you’ll notice that I chose containers this year. I will discuss the pros and cons of each below.
If you’re going to go with beds, I’d recommend raised beds. Strawberries need good drainage, so if you’re doing beds, raise them raised so they drain well.
If you’ve got the space, garden rows work great for strawberries. However, like raised beds, I always see strawberries doing well in rows when two basic conditions are met:
- Full sun – Keep the rows at least 18” apart, but if you want to walk between rows, I’d recommend a healthy 36” between rows and 12-16” between plants.
- Raised rows – Ensure the rows can drain well by making them slightly raised, like mini row hills.
This year’s choice for me is container growing. In particular, I’m really excited to try my strawberries in cloth pots. I’ve grown them in normal pots before, but one thing I always had issues with, and still do, is that the black or dark green pots get really hot in the sun. Given that I like to grow my strawberries in full sun, the pots get quite hot.
When your pots get too hot, it dries out the soil. Furthermore, I’ve found that it stunts the plant’s growth when their roots get cooked. So, the only way to get around it is to cover the pots so they don’t cook, or to use ones that are lighter color. I’ve even considered painting my darker pots white – and I may still give this a try.
Planting Your Strawberries
Springtime! Plant your strawberries outside once the temperature hits nightly lows of no less than 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit).
When to Plant: Timing is Everything
Here I am planting my strawberries on the traditional May long weekend. As you can see, I’m happy about using my new cloth pots.
How to Plant: Step by Step
- Premix your soil. I used my wheelbarrow to mix my soil to get the correct ratios (see my section above on mix amounts). Turn the soil well to ensure mixing. I used a spade shovel for this.
- Put your soil mix in containers, in raised beds, or in raised hill-like rows.
- If using seedlings or small plants, gently squeeze the bottom of their pot so that it’s easier to get out. Most potted seedlings have a certain amount of root overgrowth, so you might want to massage the roots gently to get them to start pointing outward. Dig a small hole in your medium and plunk that strawberry in place.
If using roots and stems like I used, just give them a quick soak first. About five to ten minutes will do. Then plant immediately, exposing the top of the stem, but burying all the roots. Using this method I got a 95% success rate.
- Gently pat down the soil and water immediately.
Plant Care: Watering, Mulching, and Organic Fertilizers
Strawberries like watering, but they also like well-draining soil. As they are in the direct sun, it’s good to keep them watered, but not overwatered. Let the surface of the soil dry before watering again, but it should be slightly moist about a finger width deep. In other words, water well, but let the ground dry out a touch before watering again.
I always put a top layer of about a half inch to an inch of mulch on top of the soil my plants are in. I do it for two reasons: first is that it protects the soil from the desert-like heat of the sun, keeping the soil nice and moist. The second reason is that the mulch slowly decomposes releasing fertilization down into the soil whenever it rains.
With the right mix of soil, you won’t need much in the way of fertilizing. However, I’ve found that a little fish water goes a long way. That is, I take the wastewater from cleaning a fish tank, and water it down to about 1:1 ratio fresh water to waste, then I give a light sprinkle directly on the dirt surrounding the plant. Remember, don’t get this on the plant itself or it can cause problems, but watering the soil around with this solution works wonders for a poorly fertilized garden.
That’s it! If you follow my guide to this point, within a few weeks you’ll start seeing some flowers, depending on the strawberry type you chose. I can tell you that only three weeks after planting and I have several plants showing flowers already. I’m pretty excited too, I love strawberries!