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Strawberry Tips for Tasty Super Berries!

  • Strawberries are in the Rose family.
  • The average berry has 200 seeds, the only fruit whose seeds are on its exterior surface!  The seeds are really the fruit!
  • Usually grown from runner daughters, they will grow from seed.  Just throw down caps you bit the berry from.  Sooner or later, you will have a plant you didn’t ‘plant.’  Strawberry seed saving is simple.
  • Eight out of 10 strawberries grown in the U.S. are grown in California!
  • Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA’s analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 fruits and vegetables. They are also rich in dietary fiber and manganese, and contain more vitamin C than any other berry.

Image courtesy of StrawberryPlants.org

When do I plant strawberries?  Not now, NOVEMBER 1 to 10!  Yes, it’s that specific for winter chill at the perfect time!  They start producing runners now, but cut them off until early July!  Then let them grow, and cut off the new baby plants mid October for November planting.  Or, just let them grow to fill spots where, for one reason or another, a plant has gone missing, needs replacing, and/or another could fit in.  When those needs are taken care of, cut off the rest of the runners.  These runner plant babies will grow so fast you will be getting berries from them late summer and fall if you have everbearers/day neutral types!!

My plant isn’t producing….  

Variety
 – If it is an everbearer, day neutral, variety it will produce almost all year.  June/spring bearers put out a prolific batch in June, then it’s over.  No amount of care or feeding is going to make that plant have berries after June.  Sorry.  Best to get the varieties your local nursery carries.  Or talk with them about special ordering well in advance, so they can get the ones you want.
Temps – cold weather slows down pollinators.
Shaded – believe me, strawberries like all-day sun!  If you are going to tuck them in among other plants, be sure to put them on the sunny side!
Hungry – think about it!  A strawberry plant is often pumping out several berries at a time!  They are using up soil nutrition, so feed them!  Try a light solution of fish emulsion/kelp every other week over some sprinkled seabird guano or a well aged manure.  Give your strawberries a little fertilizer in the 0-10-10 proportions; that’s lots of phosphorus and potassium for strong roots and uptake of nutrients, blooms and fruits!
Water – don’t let them dry out, they will stop producing.  This month they tend to grow more leaves, send out runners.  Clip off the runners for now, so they don’t take your plant’s energy away from producing berries, unless you want more plants right away.
Mulching is good.  They love pine needle mulch, if you have some about, because they prefer slightly acidic soil.  Drape your berries over pine cones to keep them off the ground, out of the slug zone.
Age – First year plants and 3rd year plants don’t produce as well.

My berries are really tiny! 
Strawberry varieties vary from mammoth chocolatiers, to midget but mighty tasty alpines.  If it isn’t a variety issue, it may be diseased.  See below please.

Misshapen berries or split in two sections with a hole in the center 
Irregular watering  Your berry grows fast when it has water, then is restricted when it doesn’t….
Western Tarnished Plant Bugs,
feed on the flowers and developing surface seeds that stimulate growth causing misshapen berries, hard clusters of yellow seeds on the tip of the fruit.  Clean up debris.  Once you see this, you are too late to prevent it any further.  Bummer.  UC Davis IPM Integrated Pest Management on Lygus Hesperus.  Image of typical cat-faced berries.
Pollination Strawberry flowers are usually open and attractive to bees only a day or less.  Temperatures below 60F, low night temperatures, & high humidity result in inadequate pollination, low yields of small or misshapen fruit.  Strawberries require multiple pollination for perfect fruit formation. Generally, as the number of pollinator visits increases, there will be an increase in fruit set, number of seed per fruit, fruit shape, and fruit weight.  ABOUT BEES:  per NCSU ‘Bees rarely fly when the temperature is below 55°F. Flights seldom intensify until the temperature reaches 70°F. Wind speed beyond 15 miles per hour seriously slows bee activity. Cool, cloudy weather and threatening storms greatly reduce bee flights. In poor weather, bees foraging at more distant locations will remain in the hive, and only those that have been foraging nearby will be active.  Pumpkin, squash, and watermelon flowers normally open around daybreak and close by noon; whereas, cucumbers, strawberries, and muskmelons generally remain open the entire day.’  So if the weather isn’t right THE DAY OR MORNING your flower opens…..

Whole plant has yellow leaves.  The most common cause is nutrient deficiencies due to overwatering.  Overwatering causes poor root growth making it difficult to move enough water to the leaves during hot weather.  Lay back on watering; give your babies some Nitrogen –fish emulsion/kelp.

Strawberry Pests
Pecked   If birds are pecking your berries, put bird netting or a wire dome over them.

Rebecca & David Barker, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Plot 41, staked the chicken wire in place, push it up to harvest, down to just the right height when done!

Holes in them, Chewed  Silvery slime trails are the giveaway!  Use the pine cones to drape your berries over to keep them off the ground.  Put down some Sluggo or the like, to kill off night-time nibblers, slugs, snails.  Harvest regularly before the berry gets soft and smelly, just before the buglets are attracted!  Those little black pointy worms?  I’m trying to find out what they are.  If you know, let me know, ok?!
Uprooted  Sad to say, that sounds like ‘possums, raccoon, or skunk.  They are looking for your earth worms or grubs.  Just like bunnies, these critters won’t jump a low barrier.  They just go around it.  So install a foot tall perimeter of wire pieces, black plastic plant flats, old trellis parts, whatever you have around, or go get something that looks good to you so you will be happy.  Relocating the critters is a good choice because, they do have children, that have children, that…

Strawberry Diseases  StrawberryPlants.org for full list of diseases.  Here’s a link to the 3 Most common leaf diseases with images.

Angular Leaf Spot – exactly that.  Spotted leaves.  A cosmetic problem until it isn’t.  Your plant will produce, but it won’t thrive.  Spread by water, harvest before you water, water under the leaves, remove badly spotted leaves, don’t use them as mulch, wash your hands before going on to another plant.
Strawberry Blight – the fungus is often confused with angular leaf spot, overwinters in old leaves, remove them.  Remove old leaves from runner plants before setting.  All day sun, well-drained soil, in an area with circulation, equals less fungus.  For good air circulation, plant far enough apart, remove weeds, remove, replant and/or give away runner baby sets.  Plant resistant varieties for your area of your state.  Discussion of SoCal varieties.  When you buy new plants be sure they are certified from a disease-free nursery.  If you use a fungicide, spray the underside of leaves as well as the tops.

Successful SoCal varieties!

Chandler is the most widely commercially grown strawberry in California.  High yield, early producer, large southern berry.  It’s a June bearer, so if you want year round supply, this is not your berry.
Seascape is an ever-bearing, big day neutral, all year strawberry, harvests are more abundant in late spring. High yield, resistant to most diseases except leaf spot.  Reliable producer in fall, performs well in hot, dry climates.  Berry is bright red inside and out!
Oso Grande Another June bearer, high yield big berry, good in warm climates.

Eat your red  plump strawberries!  Fresh from your garden, strawberry Sundae, strawberry sauce, strawberry pie, cake, bread, strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, yoghurt, cream cheese, cheesecake, strawberry shake, chocolate dipped, strawberry lemonade, strawberry Syrah, and, as always, the traditional, Strawberry Shortcake!! 

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AUGUST is WATER SPECIFIC month! 

Keep it steady!

The Southern California coastal ‘June Glooms’ may continue, or alternate with hot days in August.  That calls for your attention; there just isn’t a routine, so water with passion!  Feel how your veggie must be feeling!  Thirsty plants need their water to continue to grow and produce.  Most plants need consistent water.  If they don’t get it they make misshapen fruits, or stop producing at all, thinking summer or production time is over.  Oops.  If you need to be gone, ask someone reliable and experienced, who knows what your plants need, to water for you.  General courtesy and gratitude is you offer to let them pick what ripens while they are tending your veggies.    

Think like a plant!  Pretend you are a short rooted plant, like a strawberry, lettuce, onion, bean, cucumber. You can’t go get the hose yourself, but you need to stay moist or your toes dry up.  You are hoping your gardener will check, stick their finger in the ground, to see just how moist your soil is and how deep the moisture goes.  Think like a tall big corn making fat cobs – needs water from bottom to top!  Giant leafy plants like chard, kales with tons of curls, zucchinis, need a lot of water to fill up those leaves!  Plants that are in full production, especially of watery fruits like zucchinis, cucumbers, and tomatoes need steady water to make those fruits.  You need more water because you are working hard, and there is a lot of you!  If you are a little seed or seedling, you need tender gentle watering so you won’t be swept away or broken!  Remember, fuzzy plants, like tomatoes and eggplant prefer dry leaves, so water them underneath.  Although with tomatoes, better to water their neighbors or nearby rather than right at or under them.  That’s to let the soil near the roots be dry, to not harbor the Verticillium and Fusarium Wilts.  The water your tomatoes can then get is from their lower roots below the topsoil fungus area.      

Rebuild water basins that have degraded to be sure to capture the water your plant needs.  Use some pretty shells or rocks to hold the soil in place.      

A sure sign there isn’t enough moisture is if the water just runs off the top of the soil to low spots.  That soil needs a deep thorough soaking to wash away accumulated surface salts.   Water deeper and less frequently.   Mulch can help, keep it a couple inches away from the veggie stem.  One of the simplest things is to take healthy trim, chop and drop.       

On these overcast days, water at ground level and in the AM so leaves aren’t wet, mildewing.  Cut off bottom leaves so they don’t transmit funguses from the soil up into your plants, and keep fruit up off the soil to prevent bug nibbles.      

Winter Weather  Predictions are mild to cooler and dry.  Cooler means slower growth, so this fall, perhaps a bit more manures – as they rot they create heat and nutrients for your plants.  Plant a tad more densely in a row for more crop, and to keep the plants warmer together.  But, do leave plenty of space between the rows for air flow to keep down diseases.  Do you follow the Farmers’ Almanac planting dates?      

Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question!  It includes diseases and pests.      

How to Get RID of those cute pesky digging Skunks!  http://www.howtogetridofstuff.com/pest-control/how-to-get-rid-of-skunks/

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Now, let’s look at July in more detail:  Definitely time to be gathering info about fall plant varieties, getting your seeds for August planting!  As plants finish, spaces become available, get that soil ready with compost and manures.  Get some hardware cloth and install some gopher barriers. 

Wise Harvesting!  Now that the initial rush of harvesting your new veggies has passed, and it has, at times, become a labor, it is not the time to slack off!  Harvest frequently to keep your crop coming!  Do not store on the vine.  Pick zuchs and cucs small and tender. 

Maintenance practices make a difference!  See June’s info for more details! 

  • Water & mulch.  Mulch for moisture, water deeply and less frequently.  Stick your fingers in the soil to see how moist it is.  Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing.  Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cucs, more frequently.  Keep seed beds moist, water twice a day if you need to.
  • Feeding!  Epsom salts your peppers, blood meal for yellowing Nitrogen needing plants.  Scratch in a little manure to keep lettuces fat and happy.  Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!
  • Pollinators!  That’s bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, moths, and wind.  The creatures need year round food, shelter and clean water.  Selecting Plants for Pollinators – California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province is a must see article!
  • Pests – insects and skunk prevention, gopher management.
  • Diseases – pick before you water, so you don’t spread disease.  Water in the AM to let leaves dry off to keep mildew at bay. 

Make compost, compost, compost now for fall planting!  Use trimmings, spent plants, plants that bolt, healthy but no longer wanted, in your compost!  In August we will start planting fall and winter crops, and they will be wanting your fine organic compost!  Chop things up so they degrade more quickly.  Keep your pile moist so it will decay.  A dry pile is a dead pile.  Add some red worms to the pile so you will get some worm castings as well, and your pile breaks down more fully.  Bring your kitchen trim!  Add a few sprigs of yarrow from time to time and that will speed decomposition.   

Instead of leaving the big air holes open in the rubber compost enclosures, you might decide to install a very large heavy mill plastic bag to keep your pile moist!  Put a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  When enough compost has formed, you can just remove the bag to a storage area out of the sun, or empty it where you want to plant next, incorporating it with the soil there.  Or if you don’t use a bag, just remove the enclosure and plant right there, right in your compost!

Bountiful Storage!  Freezing, canning, seed collecting, making medicinal products like creams and shampoos, teas, powdered herbs, candles, flavored oils & vinegars, or drying flowers, are all wonderful ways to extend the joy of what you grew, whether you keep them or give them as gifts!

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Have you noticed dug up spots?  Have areas of your yard or garden been dug up night after night?   

Did you know?!  Skunks are excellent at rodent (mice, moles, rats) and insect control.  Their omnivorous diet includes black widow spiders and scorpions, SNAILS & SLUGS, lizards, frogs, snakes, eggs and some plant materials, pet food.  But they eat earthworms too, and skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect them from stings.  The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate.  Being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.  With their slow, waddling gait and bushy tail, these gentle mammals are delightful to see from a distance, and play an important role in keeping nature in balance – the natural way.   

However.  Several of us at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have had major skunk problems.  Plants dug up, areas where seeds are planted dug up, earthworms eaten.  Every night.  Gets wearing.   

In Santa Barbara, Animal Control is no longer trapping due to budget cuts.  They are concentrating on animal abuse cases.  They referred me to Steve of Eradicators, who said he is scheduled 3 months out, and charges for his services.  Officer Demming at Animal Control also mentioned some trappers work with Wildlife Care Network.  I talked with Dan there. He recommends prevention:   

  • Ammonia soaked rags – smell dissipates quickly
  • Cayenne pepper, the powdery type, that will get up their nose, in their eyes. Sprinkle it on the area the skunks are bothering. The animal won’t be permanently injured.
  • Shake Away, an inexpensive form of fox urine available at feed stores.
  • Moth balls in a container that will keep it from getting into the soil. Isn’t it ironic? Skunks don’t like bad smells!
  • Vary the deterrents so the skunks do not become used to them.

Dan says the disadvantage of trapping is that as soon as one skunk is gone, another usually takes its place.  Poisoning is not a good thing since other animals may ingest it or get it second-hand by eating an animal that has.   

Two sites for information are the Humane Society – Skunks and Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network – Skunks   

I’m going to try a combo of moth balls because I think they will last longer, and pepper, as a backup.  But it depends on which is the cheapest remedy overall.  Let us know what has worked for you!   

Cute Hungry Skunks! Trouble Times Three!

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