Ahhh... strawberries... sweet strawberries. Ask my husband and he will tell you that I have a love/hate relationship with the fruit. Though they aren't my favorite fruit, I do love to pick them, to mash them and eat them on vanilla frozen yogurt... to turn them into fruit smoothies or frozen yogurt pops... to make a wonderful fresh strawberry pie. And, if I were to eat them just as is, it would have to be warm from the sunshine, straight off the plant. Okay, so I guess I do like them, a little.
Ah yes... weeds, the mortal enemy of the farmer, especially those farmers who do not choose to use any chemical herbicides on their fields (aka... us!) A little strawberry primer in regards to how Firefly Berries grows strawberries will quickly help one to see where the weeds come in to play.
Each spring we currently plant around 5500-6000 bare root strawberry plants. The tiny plants come the third Wednesday in April (yes... just 3 days from today) via UPS from the Indiana Berry Company. They have no leaves yet... only a crown (base of the plant) and roots. We keep them cool and moist until conditions are right for planting. Obviously, the sooner we plant them, the better; however plants can survive up to several weeks if kept cool and moist.
Then comes the real work... several weeks later, depending on the weather... weeds will begin to grow amongst these tiny plants, which are now putting out leaves and runners. And, our job will be to hoe each one by hand at least 3 times during that first summer. This allows for the plant to grow big and strong and put out plenty of new runners (which will make new plants!) without the competition of weeds. We also till between the rows, but the weeds are nasty and grow very close to the plants and sometimes the only way to keep a plant weed-free is to pull by hand. Fruiting is not the goal that first year, so whenever possible, flower buds are pinched back as they emerge so as to put more energy into root and plant development rather than fruit.
The second and third years of the strawberry plant includes more weeding by hand and tilling between rows, until at the end of the third year we till the plants under and put the fields into cover crop for 1-2 years to return the nitrogen to the soil so that the process can start all over again. Really, it is quite fascinating how it all works together and I LOVE that part about it... but oh, the weeds. When we bought the fruit farm, we did know that the strawberries required a lot of TLC, but until I was standing in the middle of 3 acres of weed-filled strawberry fields I truly had no idea!
And so... here we are just into the 3rd week of April and already I am on my second round of strawberry weeding in our 2nd year fields. Staying ahead of the game is my goal, for when a strawberry plant has less competition, it will produce more and larger fruit.
All that said, a fresh-from-the-plant-sunshine-warmed strawberry without any icky chemicals on it or in the soil, really is worth all the work, but keeping that in mind when the war of the weeds gets bad is the hard part!