Strawberries- the name conjures up the picture of a tempting, exotic, bright red colored, juicy and sweet fruit! This fruit is packed with vitamins, fibers and anti-oxidants that offer range of health benefits. Widely used in jams, cakes, ice cream, shakes or even cheesecakes, strawberry in a dish is always cherished.
Until a few years ago , it was thought of as an exotic fruit which needs special climatic conditions for proper growth and fruiting. Currently, strawberry
farms are flourishing in Delhi NCR region with Palla farms, just 38 km from Delhi, being the most prominent. Pusa Early Dwarf, Sweet Charlie, Chandler, Fern and Blakemore varieties of the plant are successfully growing in this region.
Homegrown strawberries have benefits of being organic in nature and taste far better than those bought from the store.
October to February are the best months for their growth and fruiting, when the temperature ranges between 15ᵒC- 30ᵒC. Strawberry plants are grown from ‘runners’ (stems with buds that develop into new plants) that can be purchased from nurseries. Healthy seedlings having dense green crown, can be sown in early October.
Containers and planting:
At home, these can be easily grown in terracotta pots, plastic containers or hanging baskets. Wide, shallow pots with soil depth of 10 – 12 inches and spacing of 10-12 inches meets their needs well.
In the ground, raised ridges of about 6 inches with 1 foot spacing between them are ideal for planting the saplings.
The saplings should have at least 6-7 leaves and a well developed root system. The plants should be set in the soil such that each crown (part where the leaves emerge) sits just above the surface. If the crown part gets buried in the soil, it leads to stem rot. Application of fungicide while planting the sapling prevents rot.
Strawberries grow in rich, loamy soil that drains well. One may prepare a potting mixture by taking about 60% mixture of leaf mold and vermicompost, combined with 40% of well drained soil. Some amount of cocopeat may be added to retain moisture. Addition of a handful of neem cake is a must to keep the plant healthy. Extracts of garlic and tobacco, small wood coal pieces mixed with the soil, prevent fungal attacks on the roots. Alternatively, chemical fungicides may be added while preparing the soil. The moist soil is then covered and allowed to rest for at least a week before the saplings are planted.
Strawberry plants have fibrous root system which tends to form a network near the surface of the soil. Mulching the soil is an important step to protect the rootsfrom any pest attack and weather fluctuations.
Strawberries need a sunny spot, though one can get a slightly lower harvest with half day of direct sunlight. It is best to have other flowering plants growing in vicinity to attract the pollinators. Windy sites prevent pollinating insects from reaching the flowers and are also harmful for the growth of the plant.
The soil should remain moist at all times and watering should be done only when the top layer of the soil is dry. Over-watering may end up rotting the plant. Watering with pressure can damage the roots therefore drizzling the soil is a better option.
The plants need balanced feed for their growth before going into dormancy in extreme winters. Feeding with liquid manure every 15 days helps in developing healthy foliage. During dormant period, frequency of feeding can be reduced. Mid-January onwards, as the day temperature rises, buds start appearing. During this period, potassium rich fertilizer, like banana peel powder, given every couple of weeks yields good quantity and quality of fruits.
Flowering and fruiting starts within 60-80 days of growing the plant. Mulching under the fruits keeps them clean and dry as wet fruit tends to rot very easily. Runners should be removed (unless you want to propagate new plants) as they drain off nutrition from the mother plant.
Strawberry plants continue to be productive for at least 2-3 years. During summer months, plants can be preserved by keeping them in shade and trimming off their old leaves, making sure not to damage the crown. These plants should be repotted in November.
Strawberry plant attracts mealy bugs, aphids, spider mites etc. Regular use of organic pesticides such neem oil, extract of garlic pods and tobacco, fermented rice water, soapnut water can prevent the plant from fungal and pest attacks.