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The Homeowners Column
Time to Pick Strawberries
State Master Gardener Coordinator
It's strawberry picking time! Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in the home garden. Plus being tasty and nutritious - strawberries have it all.
Strawberries are best planted in the spring before summer heat. Three types of strawberries are grown in Illinois – spring or June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearers such as (in order of ripening) Earliglow, Honeoye, Seneca, Jewel and Allstar produce their crop in a two to three week period in spring and produce runners. Everbearers such as Ozark Beauty usually produce three flushes of flowers and fruits throughout the season in spring, summer and fall and produce few runners. Day neutrals such as Tristar and Tribute will flower and fruit continually through the season and also produce few runners.
In a home garden a mix of cultivars works well for continuous production. Supplemental watering is needed for good summer production of strawberries. Soaker hoses or drip tubes are an efficient way to irrigate that also keeps the leaves dry to lessen disease problems.
Keep berries picked and remove any spoiled fruit to lessen the munching of picnic beetles.
June bearing strawberry plantings will need to be renovated periodically to keep them productive. If all the berries are on the outside of the planting, then it's time for renovation. Immediately after harvest, mow down all the foliage with a power mower so leaves are cut about one inch above the crowns.
Rake away all the foliage and debris and remove it from the site to avoid any disease problems. Then spread 10 to 15 pounds of a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, per each 1,000 square feet of planting area. Or use compost. Use a cultivator or thin plants by hand so the rows of plants are only 6 to 12 inches wide. Remove any weeds. Irrigate plantings in dry weather. Make sure to start the renovation process within 7 to 10 days after harvest is completed.
Strawberries aren't just another pretty taste but a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber according to Martha Winter, nutrition and wellness educator with University of Illinois Extension.
One serving of medium-size strawberries (about 8) has more vitamin C than one orange, 20 percent of your Daily Value for folic acid, and no fat or cholesterol.
If you don't happen to have a strawberry patch then check newspaper classifieds for u-pick farms near you. Or visit http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/asap/resources/farmdirect/ for the Farm Direct Guide which lists local farms and farmers markets or copies are available in our office.
Strawberries will not ripen further after picking. So, choose ones that are brightly colored, firm, with the caps attached.
When you bring home a box of berries, gently empty it and check the fruit. Use soft, overripe berries for eating right away. Throw in the compost pile any smashed or moldy berries. Then store them in the refrigerator, loosely covered with plastic wrap or a paper towel until ready to eat. Use berries within one to two days and prepare as you need them to preserve their nutritional content.
Fresh strawberries taste great right from the garden, but here are some recipes for a little variety.
3 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup crushed fresh strawberries
Blend cream cheese and sugar. Beat in yogurt and crushed strawberries. Refrigerate until serving time. Serve with fresh sliced fruit and berries.
Morning Shake (Serves 2)
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Put all ingredients in blender. Cover and blend until smooth. Serve at once.
Check out http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries/ for everything you would ever want to know about strawberries.