Based on when strawberries grown with the traditional matted row system ripen, local consumers expect locally grown strawberries to be ripe all of June and extending into early July. Organic strawberry growers find that due to the low growing non competitive growth habit of strawberry plants, the matted row production system can be very costly to establish and maintain due to the need for multiple hoe & hand weeding passes. Fall planting of the Chandler variety as plugs into black plastic mulched beds, combined with winter row cover ( instead of straw mulch) has emerged as an alternative growing system for organic growers, and has proven to require much less weeding labor than matted row. However, even though Chandler is rated as a midseason variety by most strawberry plant nurseries, in this plasticulture system growers find that early ripening starting in mid May, but ending by the 2nd week of June is the norm. This schedule leaves a hole in ripe berries for late June & early July, weeks when consumers expect abundance!
The goal of this project is to find ways to modify the strawberry plasticulture system both by trying different varieties to see if they will grow well and ripen later when grown with the plasticulture system, and also by using other horticultural system modifications to delay ripening in the plasticulture system. Results will be shared with other farmers at a twighlight meeting, at organic farmer winter conferences, and via newsletters read by organic produce farmers.
Project objectives from proposal:
In this project we would like to explore ways to modify the organic strawberry plasticulture system that will allow some of our strawberry acreage to ripen in later June & early July, but still maintain the weed control benefits of plasticulture. We will trial a combination of possibly later to ripen varieties combined with modifications of when row cover is removed, as well as several other strategies for manipulating the ripening timing of June bearing strawberry varieties. If successful, our farm and other New England & New York organic farms will be able to move away from reliance on the hoe and hand weed intensive matted row strawberry production system. This could save significant amounts of labor expense on these farms, but still yield plenty of strawberries in order to satisfy organic strawberry customers for the traditional full strawberry ripening season.