I live with my family outside of Auburn Nebraska. On our farm we have many sustainable agricultural practices. A few of them are, mufti-species grazing (with our cattle, goats, and chickens) direct marketing from our on farm store and local food cooperative, and certified organic row crop.
My family and I belong to the Nebraska Sustainable Agricultural Society and we attend their yearly conference to learn more about sustainable farming practices.
I wanted to produce strawberries organically and sell them in our on farm store. Because it is so hard to grow strawberries and control weeds, I wanted to use a method where fabric is used to help stop the weeds. I also wanted to see how the fabric might affect plant growth, pest and disease problems, and the number of strawberries that were produced.
The first step in my project was to order organic strawberry plants, the non woven pro pex fabric, and barley seed. Next I prepared the area where we would plant. My brother helped me with this, he tilled the area. My mom then helped me cut the fabric and we used stakes to hold it down. This worked fairly well, but then the wind started blowing out of the South strongly, so I had to put some rocks and large chunks of wood to hold the fabric down on that side.
Our next step was to cut small x’s in the fabric. This is where we would place the strawberry plants. I cut the x’s 2 inches by 2 inches. I panted the plants 1 foot apart from each other. My mom and I used a small hand shovel to loosen the soil in the area under the fabric where the plant would go. After we planted all the strawberry plants, we watered them and then sprinkled the barley seed and placed a good layer of straw over the fabric. The reason we used the straw was to help provide some protection for the fabric so it would last longer. We also wanted to barley seed to sprout and grow. Once the barley plants went to seed, we could pull the plants and they would become additional protection for the fabric and the seeds would sprout next year, making it a continuous cycle.
With the amount of rain we had in the spring and summer this year, I didn’t have to do much watering of my plants. Once the strawberry plants were growing, I began cutting off the daughter plants that came off the mother plants. I would put the daughter plants in water to get their roots developed and then I tried to plant them back into the fabric – making my original strawberry patch larger. The first time I did this, all of the daughter plants that I rooted and tried to plant in the fabric died. They were not able to root down into the soil. My mom suggested we try getting them to root down into a peat pot first, and then put them into the fabric. This worked much better and I didn’t lose any of the daughter plants that I transplanted when I did it this way. I found it was very difficult to keep up with the number of daughter plants that my mother plants were putting off and didn’t get to transplant all of the daughter plants that were produced.
My family helped me with this project. Mostly my mom who helped me order the plants, fabric, barley and get the straw. My brother helped till the area and plant the strawberries. My sisters occasionally helped me cut off daughter plants and replant them. My mom was the main one who helped me get the daughter plants rooted in peat pots.
We got the idea of trying this project form a book called “The Farm girl in All of Us” by Mary Jane Butters. It is one of my mom’s favorite books. The book did not suggest rooting the daughter plants in the peat pots, but we did not have any success just putting them in the soil to root down.
I will be continuing my project for the next several years as I would like to expand my strawberry patch using this method. I’m not sure if I would recommend this project to others at this time. I think next year will help me decide because I will see how many berries my plants produce and how the new daughter plants I have started do. I got good results this year with weed control and lots of new daughter plants that I was able to get rooted and start new plants. I did not get many strawberries because this was their first year and you really don’t them to flower and produce fruit their first year. The changes that I need to make in the project we did – got the daughter plants to root down in peat pots instead of in water before we transplanted them back into fabric/ground.
Our family has been working on using many sustainable farming practices for a few years now. This was something new and I think we will continue to grow all of our strawberries this way. I think this will help others in our community see that you can grow strawberries organically and successfully. I know I like to have good healthy food to eat, but pulling and hoeing weeds is not something I like to do a lot, so this was a good method to help me. I think there is a demand for good, locally grown fruits and I would like to continue to work with my family in the future to provide this.
I had several opportunities to share about my project this year. Whenever we would have someone who wanted to visit our farm, I would get to tell them about my project. In the spring, our family did several farm visits for local school groups and one time the newspaper did several farm visits for local school groups and one time the newspaper did an article on our farm (see attached Nemaha County Newspaper) and I got to tell a little bit about my strawberry project. On September 11 of this year, we also were part of the Nemaha County Diversified Agricultural Tour. There were about 30 people on the tour and I was able to show my strawberry area and talk about my project.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your program. I think it was good and I learned a lot. I don’t have any recommendations at this time. Thank you.