Strawberry Plants are among the most popular fruits grown in our country. They are known for their sweet taste and high sugar content. Most of us enjoy eating them every now and then, but they aren’t exactly easy to grow or maintain. Some types produce little fruit while others produce large berries that need to be picked before they ripen completely.

The following strawberry varieties are commonly grown in the United States:

Blackberries – These small berries are very tart and juicy. They make excellent jam, jelly, and pickles.

Blackberries are not native to North America; however, they were introduced here through European settlers. Although blackberries don’t require much care, they do prefer warm weather conditions.

Blueberry – Blueberries grow well from spring until frost and bloom all summer long. They are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and fiber.

Blueberries are one of the easiest strawberries to grow because they don’t require any special soil or watering conditions.

Cherry – Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and produce large cherry tomatoes that can be used fresh or canned. Cherry tomatoes do not require any special growing conditions other than regular moisture and sunshine.

Cranberry – Cranberries grow well in marshes, bogs and swampy areas. Cranberries are easy to grow, but they do require a large amount of water and sunlight.

They also have shallow root systems that require the soil be loosened for better moisture absorption.

Gooseberry – The gooseberry grows on thorny bushes that can reach up to 6 feet in height. The bushes have reddish, orange-colored flowers that are pollinated by bees.

The gooseberry has a flavor similar to that of a kiwi fruit. They are tart until they are ripe when they become sweeter.

Strawberry – The strawberry is native to North America and grows well in the United States. As many as 300 million pounds of strawberries are consumed in the US each year.

They are easy to grow if you live in the right region. They produce fruit for approximately three years, but a healthy plant can produce fruit for up to seven years.

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The following is a brief description of some popular strawberry varieties:

Alvarez – This red-producing strawberry plant is a cross between the Allstar and the Virginia cultivars. It produces large berries that have a sweet flavor.

The berries have few seeds and resist decay.

Cavendish – This large, red-producing plant is named after the man who discovered it. It was originally found in Canada and is a cross between the Wildeside and Port strawberry plants.

The berries can be harvested at the baby, primary or secondary stages.

Sequoia – The Sequoia produces large, crunchy and sweet-tasting berries that are good for eating fresh or making into jams and other preserves. The berries are also easy to pick because they grow off the main stalk.

Tribute – The Tribute strawberry plant produces medium-sized, firm and juicy berries with slightly sweet flavor that is great for eating fresh. The plant is a cross between the Darselect and the Seascape plants.

It can withstand both warm and cold weather conditions.

Tips for Growing Strawberries:

Strawberries are best planted in the early spring once the danger of a killing frost has passed.

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Plant the strawberries in raised beds that are at least three feet wide and equally long. This will provide good drainage, which prevents the roots from rotting.

Make rows that are five feet apart. This makes it easier to tend the plants and apply fertilizer.

Apply a 2-inch layer of straw or dead leaves over the raised bed. This will prevent the weeds from competing with the strawberry plants for nutrients.

Dig a hole in the middle of each row and plant the strawberries so only the roots are covered. The plants should be spaced three to four feet apart.

Once planted, water the beds thoroughly. This will settle the plants roots and eliminate air pockets around them.

Mulch the beds with a 2-inch layer of pine needles, shredded bark or compost. This will maintain the right moisture level for the plants roots.

It will also discourage weed growth and keep down the amount of fertilizer you need to apply.

Water the plants when there is a drought or when the top inch of soil becomes dry. Do not let the plants dry out.

If you have a drip irrigation system, this is the best way to water the plants because it applies the water directly to the roots.

Fertilize the plants once a year in the early spring before new growth starts. Use a water-soluble fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, such as 5-5-5.

Fertilize lightly; you do not want to create a nutrient burn.

Pick the berries when they are fully ripe. If you don’t pick them, the birds will!

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Common Problems with Growing Strawberries:

Strawberry plants are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases. The most common problem is the appearance of holes in the leaves.

This is a sure sign of the presence of an armyworm or cutworm. These pests are gray to brown in color and worm-like in shape. They hide during the day and feed at night. Unfortunately, they also devour entire plants.

To control these pests, apply nematodes to the soil when the threat of an infestation is present. You can also place a flat piece of cardboard on the ground near the base of the plant.

Traces of the worms will be on the cardboard in the morning. Use this to identify where the pest is hiding and eliminate it.

Powdery mildew is a common disease that affects the leaves. It causes a white powdery substance to appear on the leaves.

At times, this is accompanied by a yellowing of the leaves. To treat, apply manure tea to the leaves or spray with a liquid copper fungicide.

Leaf spots are also a problem. They are dark brown or black in color and cause the leaves to become brittle.

Destroy the plants and do not replant in the same location next year.

If a severe infestation of aphids occurs, they can drain the life from the plant. Aphids are small, green insects that have a soft body.

They suck the sap from the leaves, which kills them. Aphids can be controlled by spraying the plants with a forceful stream of water. This will wash them off. You can also apply insecticidal soap to the plant.

Strawberry plants will produce runners that grow along the ground. If these are not trimmed, you will have multiple strawberry plants in one location.

If left unchecked, these plants will steal the nutrients from the parent plant and weaken it. Cut the runners back as soon as they are observed.

If a plant bears no fruit and looks sickly, it’s probably a root parasite. These plants have very small leaves that are clustered close to the ground.

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Dig up the plant and destroy.

Harvesting:

Strawberries will produce fruit for two or three years. After that, they tend to become less productive or die completely.

To prolong their life span, add a 2-inch layer of mulch over the bed and keep it watered and fertilized.

The best time to pick strawberries is in the morning. If you pick them in the heat of the day, they will not be as sweet.

Pick them just before you plan on eating them. Don’t wait too long or they will become soft and mushy.

Store strawberries in a shallow container lined with paper towels. Keep them in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Wash them right before you plan on eating them. Don’t leave them in water or they will become soggy.

Strawberries can be washed using a soft bristled fruit brush. Be careful not to bruise the fruit.

Strawberries can be frozen without losing their Vitamin C content. Allow them to dry completely on a cookie sheet, then place them in airtight bags.

Use within three months.

Strawberries can also be canned using a light syrup. You will need 5 cups of crushed berries, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water for every pint jar.

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Place the berries in a pot and add the sugar and water. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour into hot sterile jars (See below) and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 6 pints.

Green tomatoes can be stored either on the vine or off. To store on the vine, pick them when they are still green (or partially green).

Bring them inside and place them in a basket or hanging from a ceiling with good air circulation. Place them in a cool location, but not the refrigerator. Check them every day and use those that turn color.

If you want to ripen tomatoes before using, place them in a paper bag. They will release their own heat as they ripen, so only leave them in the bag for a few days.

Sunlight will turn green tomatoes red. Place them in a location that receives full sun and they should ripe in a couple of days.

Freezing raw tomatoes can be done using one of two methods. First, you can peel, core and slice them.

Place them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer until they are frozen solid. Place them is freezer bags or plastic containers and use within three months.

Another method is to blanch the tomatoes by dipping them into boiling water for one minute, then placing them in ice water to cool. Peel the skins, core and slice.

Place the slices in freezer bags or plastic containers and use within three months.

To can tomatoes, bring them to a boil in water for 30 seconds. Drain them and place them into a bowl of ice water to cool.

Peel the skins from the tomatoes and remove the core. Place the tomatoes into hot sterile jars (See below) and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to pints or 1 teaspoon of salt to quarts. Fill with boiling liquid, allow to cool and seal. Process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes for pints or 40 minutes for quarts. Makes 3 quarts or 6 pints of canned tomatoes.

Tomatoes can also be made into catsup by adding 1 cup of brown sugar for every 3 cups of prepared tomato, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of mustard seed, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves to each quart or pint. Heat to boiling and simmer for 10 minutes.

Because of their high acid content, tomatoes can also be canned using the dry packing method. Follow the directions listed in “Meats” (see above) for canning fish.

Tomato plants make an excellent treat for your rabbit, chinchilla, or guinea pig. Chop them up and feed them with a parts of a salad.

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Many people have found many other uses for tomatoes. Their high acid content makes them a good cleaning agent.

Cut them in half and use the exposed edge to scrub pots or other dishes. Their juice can be used as hair conditioner.

Tuna

There is much debate over the canning of tuna. It is a strict no-no according to the U.S.D.A.

because it causes botulism. If the can isn’t cooked the correct length of time, it could contain the bacteria that leads to food poisoning and even death. However, I know several people who have canned it themselves and lived to tell about it. If you decide to take the chance, follow directions exactly.

In order to kill all of the bacteria, you need to allow your tuna to cook for a full five minutes at 15 psi. Use a pressure canner and only half-pints.

You can double the amount of water listed in the ingredients if you prefer, but do not add any more salt than is required.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups of water

1 tbsp. salt

2 cans (6 oz.) of tuna (in oil)

1/4 sweet onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 stalk of celery, chopped

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2 tbsp. of parsley, chopped and dried

1 tbsp. of lemon juice

1/2 tsp. of black pepper

1/2 tsp. of garlic powder

Add the water and salt to the ingredients and stir to mix. Do not overfill your jars and place oven the recommended amount of the ingredients listed above into a half-pint jar, leaving 1 1/2 inches head space for expansion.

Wipe the rims of the jars, apply the lids and rings, and heat in hot boiling water or a pressure canner for:

Pints 100 minutes

Quarts 120 minutes

When the time is up, allow the jars to cool before checking the seals. Remove the rings, wipe and label the jars.

Store them in a cool, dark place and use within one year. Makes 2 half-pint jars.

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No discussion of pickles is complete without mentioning the tried and true dill pickle. They are a wonderful way to beat the summer heat, but you don’t need to stop there.

Be creative with your vegetables and spices. Below is a simple recipe for bread and butter pickles.

Ingredients:

7 cups of thinly sliced cucumbers (about 3 lbs. fresh)

2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 1/2 cups of water

3 tbsp. of canning salt

4 cups of vinegar (5% acidity)

3 cups of sugar

2 tbsp. of whole allspice

2 tbsp. of crushed bay leaves

2 tbsp. of mustard seeds

1 tbsp. of celery seeds

1/2 tbsp. of ground turmeric

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Optional: sliced hot peppers

Directions:

Combine the cucumbers, onions, salt, and water in a large bowl and let stand for 3 hours. Drain well.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil; add the cucumber mixture. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal.

Makes about 8 pints.

Pickled vegetables are best after aging for at least 2 months. Be sure to store them in a cool, dark place and use within one year.

These recipes are only the beginning of your journey down the path of canning and pickling. The world of home preservers is a vast one with room to grow, expand, and explore.

So get out there and don’t be afraid to make a mistake or three. As long as you have a good set of reference books and the determination to go with it, you’ll end up with some fantastically tasting foods for your trouble!

Sources & references used in this article:

Plant genotype affects total antioxidant capacity and phenolic contents in fruit by J Scalzo, A Politi, N Pellegrini, B Mezzetti, M Battino – Nutrition, 2005 – Elsevier

Species identification and pathogenicity study of French Colletotrichum strains isolated from strawberry using morphological and cultural characteristics by B Denoyes, A Baudry – Phytopathology, 1995 – apsnet.org

Antioxidants, phenolic compounds, and nutritional quality of different strawberry genotypes by S Tulipani, B Mezzetti, F Capocasa… – Journal of Agricultural …, 2008 – ACS Publications

Morphological, cultural, and pathogenic variation among Colletotrichum species isolated from strawberry by BJ Smith, LL Black – 1990 – pubag.nal.usda.gov

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