• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing strawberries in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

LoriAdamsDownToEarthUPickGarden(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 9 of the Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING STRAWBERRIES

Strawberries do well here in Sitka, but they come with some challenges.  I think one of the key secrets to success is location, location, location.

Strawberries are a perennial crop that come in two basic types:

  • JUNE BEARING/SHORT-DAY cultivars that produce a heavy crop over a short period in the summer, or
  • EVER BEARING/DAY NEUTRAL cultivars that produce a smaller crop that is stretched over a longer season.

Within these two types there are many different varieties.  Most strawberries that are grown here in Sitka have been passed down generation after generation and originated from early breeding work at the USDA Sitka Experimental Station during the 1920s.  The berries from these plants are small, pale in color and not very sweet, but they make up for it by being very hearty and producing large crops. In Sitka it is very difficult to grow large, beautiful red berries with the “true strawberry” flavor.  Besides the two basic types there are also alpine and specialty varieties.

Strawberries can be grown in containers, rows or patches.  Most Sitkans have patches because of the way the plants grow and multiply, but your production will go up if you have rows and take the effort to control plant growth.  Containers can be helpful in keeping the fruit off the ground where it will rot or be eaten by slugs.

The best strawberries I have tasted here in Sitka were grown in rock walls. I believe this is because of the heat retention of the stones, the lack of slugs and soil, and the excellent drainage a rock wall provides.  The worst place to grow strawberries is in the shade, next to brushy slug-infested areas or areas with poor drainage.

Strawberry plants can be grown from seeds or “runners.”  Runners look like a stem/root that grows from the mother plant.  This runner grows about a foot long and then produces a baby strawberry plant that will take root and start to grow on its own.  To harvest runners simply cut rooting baby plants free from the mother plant and plant on their own.

The life expectancy of any one plant is about six years with only the first third years being highly productive, so the best plan is to grow a row of plants and consistently remove every single runner for two years.  On the third year allow no more than five runners to grow on each plan,t then harvest the runners mid-summer and plant them in a different bed being sure to diligently remove any runners that they themselves might produce.  At the end of the season just tear out the old bed.  Repeat.

Strawberries like soil that is full of organic material that is low in nitrogen.  If the nitrogen level is too high then you will end up with fabulous greens that will make your neighbors jealous but very few berries, and the berries you do get will not be able to ripen because of the shade of the foliage.

Berries require lots of potassium (seaweed) and only a trace of lime (seashell sand) to thrive.  The best way to apply seaweed is to mulch monthly with a thin layer around plants being sure not to cover up the growing center, or the “crown” of the plant.  To prepare a new bed just load it up with seaweed in the Spring, let it break down and then till it into the soil before planting time.

A strawberry plant has tough gnarly roots that grow from the crown.  When planting, it is critical that the crown is right at ground level — if it is buried it will definitely rot and die and if it is planted too high it will dry out and die.  Dig a shallow hole with a cone of soil in the middle, set the crown on top of the cone, spread the roots out like a spider in the hole and then cover with dirt.  Firm the soil around the plant being sure to position the crown properly.

Floating row cover can be helpful but it is critical that you remove it when the plants start to flower.  In order for pollination to occur the blooms must be accessible to bees and other natural pollinators.

Once strawberries start to ripen it is important to pick them almost every day because they are very perishable and easily susceptible to rot and slugs.  Try to leave their “caps” on, lay them in a shallow container rather than stacking them in a deep bowl, and do not wash them until right before it’s time to eat them.

In the fall you can mulch the bed heavily with seaweed being sure not to bury the plants themselves and then spread straw over the entire bed, plants and all, to protect them from frost heaves.

On a final note, there doesn’t seem to be anyone growing a large enough volume of strawberries to sell them.  If you have some extra garden space or an empty greenhouse, please consider growing strawberries and selling them at the Sitka Farmers Market. We’d all love you for it.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

• July work parties set for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host work parties from 2-4 p.m. each Saturday in July at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (if there isn’t a Sitka Farmers Market scheduled that Saturday).

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm provides vegetables, herbs and fruit for the Sitka Farmers Markets, which start in July (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 16, 30, Aug. 13, 27 and Sept. 10 at ANB Hall). The communal garden is located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street.

In addition to helping get the communal garden ready to grow veggies this summer, volunteers can meet Laura Schmidt, who is the lead gardener for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm this year and will coordinate most of the summer’s work parties. Laura said the work parties will be kid-friendly and there will be several activities to keep the kids busy.

To learn more about the garden work parties, please contact Laura Schmidt at 623-7003 or 738-7009. To learn more about the Sitka Farmers Markets, contact Linda Wilson at 747-3096 (nights or weekends) or by e-mail at lawilson87@hotmail.com.

• June work parties set for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host work parties from 2-4 p.m. each Saturday in June at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm provides vegetables, herbs and fruit for the Sitka Farmers Markets, which start in July (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 16, 30, Aug. 13, 27 and Sept. 10 at ANB Hall). It is located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street.

In addition to helping get the communal garden ready to grow veggies this summer, volunteers can meet Laura Schmidt, who is the lead gardener for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm this year and will coordinate most of the summer’s work parties. Laura said the work parties will be kid-friendly and there will be several activities to keep the kids busy.

To learn more about the work parties, please contact Laura Schmidt at 738-7009.

• Time changes for Saturday’s planting party at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

The time has changed to 1-3 p.m. for the planting party on Saturday, May 14, at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. The times also have changed for the next two planting parties, from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 and 28.

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm provides vegetables, herbs and fruit for the Sitka Farmers Markets, which start in July (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 16, 30, Aug. 13, 27 and Sept. 10 at ANB Hall). It is located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street.

In addition to helping get the communal garden ready to grow veggies this summer, volunteers can meet Laura Schmidt, who is the lead gardener for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm this year and will coordinate most of the work parties and May planting parties. Laura said the work and planting parties will be kid-friendly and there will be several activities to keep the kids busy.

People who picked up seed starter kits at Let’s Grow Sitka in March should check the date they are scheduled to bring their started seeds in for planting. If you can’t bring them in on that date, please contact Laura Schmidt (623-7003) or Lisa Sadleir-Hart (747-5985) to make arrangements for someone else to bring them in on the scheduled date.

• St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm work party scheduled for Wednesday, May 4

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

St. Peter's Fellowship Farm sign

Volunteers are need to help out at a special work party from 5:15-6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. This work party will be to build a couple of new raised garden beds and to do other preparation work before a series of planting parties scheduled for May.

From 1-4 p.m. on each Saturday in May (May 7, 14, 21 and 28), volunteers are needed for planting parties at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, which is a communal garden located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm provides vegetables, herbs and fruit for the Sitka Farmers Markets, which start in July (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 16, 30, Aug. 13, 27 and Sept. 10 at ANB Hall).

In addition to helping get the communal garden ready to grow veggies this summer, volunteers can meet Laura Schmidt, who is the lead gardener for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm this year and will coordinate most of the work parties and May planting parties. Laura said the work and planting parties will be kid-friendly and there will be several activities to keep the kids busy.

People who picked up seed starter kits at Let’s Grow Sitka in March should check the date they are scheduled to bring their started seeds in for planting. If you can’t bring them in on that date, please contact Laura Schmidt (623-7003) or Lisa Sadleir-Hart (747-5985) to make arrangements for someone else to bring them in on the scheduled date.

• Sitka growers to contribute to local CSA venture

Renee Pierce, right, explains the first Sitka CSA venture to Sitka Local Foods Network board member Natalie Sattler during the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

Renee Pierce, right, explains the first Sitka CSA venture to Sitka Local Foods Network board member Natalie Sattler during the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

One of the latest trends in farming is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which enables people to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. Renee and Brian Pierce, who own the locally made kelp products and wild berry jelly shop Simple Pleasures of Alaska, are working with Sitka growers to start a small CSA venture with local produce during the summer growing season.

Renee Pierce said that instead of the CSA being a true farmers’ cooperative, she will buy produce from several local growers — including Florence Welsh of the Welsh Family Forget-Me-Not Gardens, Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals, Judy Johnstone of Sprucecot Gardens, Evening Star and Fabian Grutter of Eve’s Farm, and Lori Adams of Down To Earth U-Pick Gardens. The CSA also will include produce from the Pierce Family’s Simple Pleasures garden.

The Sitka CSA will start small, with membership slots for just 25 families the first year. Renee Pierce said of those 25 slots, only about 10 memberships are left. CSA members will commit to paying $50 plus tax every other week, which will give the member families a selection of produce that includes some organic produce purchased from Organically Grown Company of Portland, Ore. During the months when Sitka growers aren’t producing many vegetables, there will be more produce purchased from Organically Grown Company. There also will be an option to buy bread at $6 a loaf beyond the price of the produce box.

The produce selection includes many crops that can be grown in Sitka — such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, radishes, zucchini, green beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, greens, tomatoes, etc. But with the Organically Grown Company providing some of the produce, CSA members also can choose items that aren’t regular Sitka crops — such as bananas, lemons, limes, pineapples, oranges, etc.

Information about Sitka's first CSA from the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

Information about Sitka's first CSA from the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

Renee Pierce said she has worked with Organically Grown Company for about four years, purchasing organic produce for the Pierce family and several friends and other Sitka residents who heard about the venture (at one point she had about 60-70 families buying from her). She said she orders produce by the case, and it is available for pick-up from 3-6 p.m. every other Monday afternoon at the Simple Pleasures store next to Kettleson Memorial Library. The first pick-up day for the Sitka CSA is March 29 (which will be for the 15 or so families that already have reserved a spot in the CSA), and the next pick-up day is April 12. CSA members are encouraged to bring their own bags and/or boxes on pick-up days.

The pick-up days are slated to be during the weeks between the every-other-week Sitka Farmers Markets this summer, which will give local growers and buyers the opportunity to buy and sell local produce for both. Renee said there will be some produce extras for families that want to adjust their allotments, but everybody’s allotted produce value will be $50. If you add from the extras you will need to pay the difference, and if you give up some produce you don’t want so your value dips below $50 there are no refunds. She said the CSA is being done as a community service and it’s meant to just break even so the bills get paid.

To learn more about the Sitka CSA, contact Renee Pierce at 738-0044 (cell) or 747-3814 (home). You also can e-mail her at mpierce@ptialaska.net.

• To extend the lives of berries, give them a hot bath

Picking blueberries in Sitka

Picking blueberries in Sitka

It happens to all berry fans. You pick a bunch of berries, or buy some in the store, and within a day or two you have mold growing on them. Yuck.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an article (free registration required to open link) about how to solve this problem. Give the berries a warm to hot bath of about 125 to 140 degrees (depending on the thickness of the berries skin). This process is called “thermotherapy,” and it seems to do the trick.