How many strawberries do you eat a year? The average American consumes 8 pounds of strawberries a year of which 75% are fresh and the balance frozen. Strawberries have become one of the most popular fruits in the United States mostly due to their year-round availability and consistent association with a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle – as well as being seen as a luxury yet affordable fruit. North Carolina strawberry production ranks fourth in the nation with about 1,800 acres being harvested each year. A big portion of these strawberries are sold directly to consumers at local pick-your-own farms between mid-April and mid-June every year.
To extend the strawberry’s growing season while simultaneously sheltering the plants, greenhouses can be utilized for cultivating purposes. A greenhouse will protect the plants from heavy rain and strong wind while providing enough heat to encourage out-of-season fruit bearing. In order to maximize your harvest, a few basic guidelines need to be adhered to, to ensure that your strawberry plants have the best possible chance of bearing beautiful dark red and deliciously sweet fruit.
Heat, Light & Humidity
Strawberries require a lot of heat and light and grow best in warm, dry conditions while being exposed to at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Ensure that your greenhouse windows are clean and not obstructed by anything that can block out any natural light. One of the greatest benefits of growing strawberries in a greenhouse is that you do not have to agonize over frost. A temperature of about 60°F should be maintained until the plants start to flower. After harvesting is completed it needs to be turned down so that it is cool during winter, encouraging the plants to flower again next season. If you choose to grow your berries from runners it is vitally important to keep your eyes on the humidity levels as runners are often more sensitive to heat than mature plants are. You may even want to consider growing some juvenile strawberries in pots inside the greenhouse.
Watering and Feeding
Your strawberries will require frequent watering due to their shallow roots that are prone to drying out rapidly. Greenhouses can get very hot, especially during summer, making regular watering of the utmost importance. It is also, however, of equal significance that you do not water your strawberries too much as it can cause the roots to rot. It is recommended that watering only takes place in the morning to minimize the length of time that the soil is very wet. You can feed your strawberries every two weeks with a balanced, organic fertilizer during the growing season. As soon as they start to flower switch to a high-potash liquid fertilizer to maximize their fruit-bearing potential.
Prevent Disease and Pest Infestation as far as Possible
Strawberries are rather susceptible to plant disease, especially verticillium wilt, even when growing in a greenhouse. To minimize the risk of your plants contracting this illness, only buy certified varieties and avoid planting them near other plants such as eggplants and tomatoes. Risks can be further reduced by keeping your greenhouse clean and healthy, throwing out any dead plants and leaves before they rot. While greenhouses generally reduce the prevalence of birds, bugs and slug damage to fruit and vegetables, they can still find their way inside, making it a must-do to clear out the greenhouse from time to time to halt any possible infestations.
While growing strawberries in a greenhouse is not necessarily a fail-proof way to ensure a perfect harvest, it is as good a method as any other with the added advantage of offering protection against the elements as well as a number of pests. By following the guidelines above, together with a certain degree of trial and error, you will undoubtedly soon be able to show off your beautiful fruit.
Jennifer Holt is a freelance writer and mother of two, who loves nothing more than to play, “where has the cat hidden itself now.”