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Some planning and care will bring a new strawberry patch to harvest

Why not plant some strawberries in your backyard gardent this year! First, it's far wiser to buy inspected certified plants from a reputable dealer or nursery instead of accepting over-the-fence gifts. The gift, while offered with good intentions, might be diseased. Why take a chance when you'll be going through all the trouble of digging up the bed and caring for them through one year and into the next?

When buying plants in person or by mail, make sure they have hefty, fibrous root systems. Plants should have light-colored roots and a single crown. Black or dark-colored roots could mean a problem or that they've dried out.

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And second, what varieties to plant? You would be wise to garden shop, nursery, or horticulturist for the best variety for your part of the country.

Such everbearers as Premier and Midway keep well and are more disease-resistant. Early Dawn is excellent in heavy soils. Catskill and Tennessee Beauty are recommended for freezing. Surecrop and Sparkle are excellent producers, also. Many home gardeners grow such everbearers (plants producing twice a season) as Ozark Beauty, O Gallala, and Geneva.

Once you've selected your variety you should already have located the plot of ground for your strawberry patch. The area should receive morning and noon sun and be completely exposed to rain. Plant on a slight mound of earth to allow rainwater to drain freely. Don't pick a plot where water will collect around the crowns of the plants.

When the last frost disappears, you can start preparing your soil as the ground dries out. Work a lot of organic material into the soil. Well-rotted manure, compost from leaves, grass clippings, and decayed plants are good additions. If these materials are not completely decomposed be sure to add extra nitrogen to feed the busy bacteria.

It's also a good idea to work sawdust into the soil along with the nitrogen. Any lumberyard usually will be able to provide you all the sawdust you want. Apply about one coffee can of high nitrogen per bushel of sawdust and work well into the soil. The added mulch helps to conserve moisture and keep the weeds down.

After preparing the patch of soil, you are ready to plant. For June-bearing types most home gardeners commonly use the matted-row system. Space rows three to four feet apart with one plant about every two feet.

Once the plants take hold allow the runner roots to form a mat 15 to 18 inches wide with each runner root about every 4 to 6 inches. However, the hill method is most often used for everbearers. Place one plant every 12 to 15 inches in double or triple rows.

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As to the actual planting, since your plot is already well worked all you must take care in doing now is to put your plants in at the proper depth. Don't plant the crowns too deep or too shallow. The bottom part of the crown should be even with the top layer of the soil.

Remove old blooms, runners, and all but two or three of the leaves from each plant.As with any other plant simply extend the roots out in the natural fanlike shape and firm the soil over the roots. Don't plant the roots straight down.

The big harvest comes in June of the next year. How you prepare your plants for the first planting season determines your harvest the next year. But with everbearers keep the flower buds off until a good crop of runners has developed, usually about the end of July. Try to aim for a September harvest the first season.

Water your plants once a week during dry weather. Don't sprinkle but let the hose run to soak the roots at full depth.

Side-dress with a complete fertilizer (10-10-10 or 12-12-12) about 10 days after planting with two or three pounds for every 100 feet of row. Make sure to keep the fertilizer off the leaves and water immediately afterward. Don't be tempted to work fertilizer into the soil with the root system. You'll only burn the roots and they'll never do well.

One of the big problems of growing strawberries the first year is the competition from weeds. Lick the weed problem with shallow cultivation and a weed-control program. Use Diphenamid (Enide or Dimid) or DCPA (Dacthal) according to the manufacturer's directions. To prevent new weeds from cropping up, apply Sesone as a pre-emergent weed killer. And even before planting you can initiate a deweeding program.

Amitrol-T will kill all the weeds, including quackgrass, but planting can't take place for four or five weeks.

Control insects with captan and Sevin when the berries are half-grown. Afterward, use only captan to control fruit rot when rains are heavy for a long duration.

After harvesting you usually think only of weeding, cultivating, and keeping the patch up until it's time for the winter mulch. But there's something else you can do instead. Largetract strawberry farms sometimes renovate their acreages. But this suggestion is made only if your plants are vigorous and in healthy shape.

Simply mow off the plants one-half inch above the crown immediately after the last picking. Then narrow down the rows to about 10 inches with a hoe or motor-driven tiller. If the plants are very thick in the row, closer than six inches, thin them out. Then get ready for the winter mulch and apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer. The following year you should have a fine crop.

As winter comes on, mulch with organic material such as leaves, straw, wood shavings, sawdust, or grass clippings two to three inches deep to protect the crowns. Blooms are already set at that time for their spring show. Mulch just as the ground freezes and not too early because mice will move in and chew up the plants for their own winter food.

It's possible to freeze strawberries whole. Simply wash each berry and gently remove the green stem, placing the berries on a paper towel to dry. Then put the berries in a pie pan , shallow cake tin, or on trays to freeze.

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