Sunday, October 28, 2007

What's Growin' On 10/28/07: First Frost! Plus Growing Strawberries How To Prepare Your Strawberry Bed ror Winter

Cool Cavendish Strawberry Plants

Realization Of The Day:
Even though I'm usually expecting it, the first frost of the season always comes as somewhat of a surprise.

I think it's because I get spoiled in early October. Things have cooled down (most years anyway), the majority of ravenous insects have disappeared, and autumn rainstorms mean I no longer need to don my Watering Queen hat every day. Garden duties are greatly diminished, and nothing really needs to be protected at night yet. Even the greenhouse can stay open and vented all the time.

October in the garden feels positively luxurious. Then all of a sudden the frost shows up, and I sort of start to panic.

It really isn't too much of a problem yet, though (and everything does look pretty all covered in frost), as it won't be getting this cold every night for a while. Our days should stay fairly warm, too. Next week it's even supposed to pop back up into the 70s. So at this point, protection from the occasional cold snap simply means covering the autumn crops with floating row cover, which can even be left on your plants during the day if you're feeling lazy.

All I have to remember is that this is the time of the year when we need to adjust the temperature forecasts to reflect the cooler weather down here in our little valley, technically known as a 'low lying area.' While the official report was 41° at 8:30am this morning, we were at 32°.

Meanwhile, the strawberry bed doesn't need any attention just yet. The latest issue of Progressive Farmer magazine (you never know where you'll find helpful gardening tips) offers this advice for preparing your strawberry beds for the upcoming winter:

Strawberry plants are hardy perennials, but the alternate freezing and thawing that heaves them from the ground is what you must protect against. Cover the strawberries with 4 to 6 inches of hay, which is loose enough to let them breathe. Wait until after several frosts, but not enough cold to freeze the ground. You do not need to cut the foliage back before mulching.

I've always covered my strawberry bed with a thick layer of hay each year, but I never realized it was to protect the plants from ground heaves. This is the same reason you need to cover your fall-planted garlic (which I meant to plant yesterday!).

The only problem I have is that my beagle, Robin, loves to curl up on what she has decided are hay beds built especially for her. At almost 11 years old, though, she is semi-retired and will probably be spending much of her days and nights curled up next to the living room woodstove this winter instead (where she is right now, in a plush round cat bed that is much too small for her but that she insists on squeezing into anyway).

I created a new 4' x 8' strawberry bed this year, which I filled on May 7th with 30 Cavendish plants I ordered for $9.95 from my beloved Pinetree Garden Seeds. According to their catalog, this midseason variety offers "high yields of large berries with excellent flavor that make this a good choice for home gardens or roadside stands. High resistance to red stele and intermediate resistance to verticillium wilt. Berries ripen over a long season."

So far the plants are doing great, despite having nearly the entire bed eaten down to almost nothing twice over the summer by deer. Covering it with old sheets at night helped with that problem.

As difficult as it always is, especially since my old strawberry bed was history this year, I pinched off all the blooms so the plants could focus their energy on building up a strong root system rather than producing berries. For a while I pinched all the runners off, too, but if your plants are as vigorous as these were, this is a job that can easily away from you.

At one point I left the runners that had already rooted themselves into the ground, but snipped the connecting stem from each mother plant. Basically I filled in the empty spaces for free. Then after the deer damage I just left the entire bed alone as I wasn't even sure if it would survive. But the plants came back with a vengeance and the entire bed is now completely filled in.

I already have high hopes for a bumper strawberry crop next spring. While others are busy conjuring up visions of sugarplums during the upcoming holiday season, I'll be dreaming of bowls and bowls of those sweet, jewel-like berries—and there won't be a single turtle in sight!

Other Strawberry Growing Posts:
6/5/05: Strawberries from Garden to Kitchen
5/21/06: A Beautiful Breakfast!
5/27/06: Cary, Bear, and Me vs. The Turtles
5/28/08: Successfully Growing Strawberries
7/20/08: Strawberries in the Garden & an Orange Yogurt Cake Recipe in the Kitchen
9/7/09: How To Grow Bigger Strawberries Next Year

© 2007, the crisp and cool foodie farm blog where there never seem to be enough strawberries.


  1. Even that photo was enough to make me shiver in the thought of the frost. Which is not good when it's spring down here, lol

  2. Hi had no idea that strawberries were perennials, no wonder they're still alive in my garden! I planted them this spring. Any good tips for ammendments so they are more fruit bearing? Mine petered out after the first month.

  3. I have just found your blog(s) and I love them! I have been trying to find some gardening/farm/homestead blogs, but with no search feature on Blogger, I have to trip over them. I am enjoying reading your archives, recipes, and all of it! Thank you!

  4. Hi BBG,
    I always love hearing from gardeners in the southern hemisphere. Stay warm! : )

    Hi Elise!
    Yes, your strawberries should definitely still be alive! Congratulations on starting your own strawberry bed. And of course you won't even have to worry about protecting your plants during the winter in your mild California climate.

    As far as amendments, strawberries (and most all other fruits and vegetables) will benefit greatly from fertile, nutrient-rich soil. Some wonderful organic amendments you can add to your garden beds include compost, rotted manure, rock powders such as rock phosphate and calcium phosphate, and kelp.

    If your beds are already planted, like with your strawberries, you can carefully work them into the top few inches of soil around the plants, being careful not to disturb the roots. Or you can simply mulch with a thick layer of compost or manure. This acts as a natural slow-release fertilizer, allowing the nutrients to seep into the soil each time you water or it rains.

    Every year I put a thick layer of manure hay that I muck out of the sheep barn around tomatoes, peppers, etc. This does double duty as fertiler/soil amendment and a mulch. By the end of the season, all that's left on top is a nice layer of hay mulch (no weeds!) and the soil is black as can be.

    All that said, I think your strawberries petered out after the first month simply because that's what they're designed to do! Single-crop varieties (which can be Early Season, Mid-Season, or Late Season) essentially give you all their ripe fruit at once. How long the actual harvest period is will depend on the individual variety. (They aren't all ready on the very same day.)

    What you may want to do is plant some Day-Neutral strawberries, which used to be called Everbearing. This is what the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog says about their Tribute-Everbearing Strawberry:

    "Researchers have developed strawberries that are not dependent upon day length to blossom or set fruit and will produce large crops of high quality berries all summer. The medium to large, firm berries are flavorful and will produce until fall with adequate moisture and regular fertilizing throughout the summer."

    Apparently many of the old Everbearing varieties didn't have a very good reputation among gardeners, but these new ones are supposed to be much improved. Now I'm wondering why I didn't plant Day-Neutrals this past spring instead! I may have to see about dedicating another one of my raised beds to strawberries next year. : )

    Hope this helps. Happy gardening!

    Hi Lisa,
    Welcome to the farm and garden! I'm so glad you found us and are enjoying your visits. I appreciate your taking the time to write and say hello and look forward to hearing from you again.

  5. Hi,

    Terribly sorry to bother you but I entered a comment when this post came out asking about a strawberry "berm". I'm not sure if it went through? I know you must get LOTS of comments, and can't address them all, but I was just wondering if it was received?

    Thanks and sorry again to bother you - I love your blog(s) and am amazed that you find the time to write, photograph, organize, and post and that's in your FREE time!

    Melissa (previously "yomamma")

  6. Hi Melissa,
    No bother at all. I'm glad you wrote again because your original comment definitely didn't publish for some reason (and I didn't receive it via email either). I don't moderate comments, so it should have shown up here right away. Odd, but that's Blogger for you sometimes, LOL. ; )

    I'm afraid I don't know what a strawberry berm is, though. What was your question?

    Thanks for the kind words. So glad you're enjoying my blogs. : )

  7. Well a 'berm' is a medieval raised area for defence inside a wall or moat inside a castle.

    So a 'strawberry berm' would be a raised garden bed, to get the strawberries up off the level ground, to protect them from rotting a bit.

  8. Exactly. (and thanks for getting back to me!)

    See, we live in Portland, Oregon and have a somewhat smallish backyard that we're trying to improve by converting random non-used spaces into growing spaces. Along one of our fences (southern exposure, lots of sun especially in the afternoon), is (was) a space about 6 or 8 feet long and one foot wide. We dug up all the grass and its now sitting under a thick bed of straw and pine needles until we figure out what we are going to do with it.

    My husband wants to build a berm - basically a sloped mound of earth about 2-3 feet high - and plant strawberries along it (different heights, so they can cascade).

    Keeping in mind this thing is only about a foot wide maximum, is this a good idea? Can strawberries grow this way? Anything special we need to consider? We know nothing about strawberries, except that we love to eat them. I've grown them successfully in a big round container, but they started to decline after a few years so we pulled them and planted garlic there instead a few weeks ago.

    So, any and all advice welcome from thoughts on strawberries to thoughts on the berm to suggestions for alternatives if this doesn't sound like a good idea.

    Thanks all and sorry to be so verbose!

  9. Thanks for the information about covering the strawberry plants. I have some in the ground and want to make sure they last through the winter in the UK.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  10. I stumbled upon your blogs this Thanksgiving evening and I'm thrilled! Love the info. on the strawberries. I've been contemplating starting a strawberry bed the last two years, so maybe 2008 is the year. Obviously, I don't rush into things! Can't wait to read more, but just had to jump in and tell you how much I've enjoyed your blogs so far. From another Missouri farm girl, Teresa

  11. I am here in Missouri and have a very full strawberry pot of lush plants. I was wondering if i should take the pot into the basement for the winter or leave it out?

  12. Dear Farmgirl,
    I just love that handle - bet the libber's don't love you using it. I am interested in who out there in gardening land is or has used biochar or horticultural charcoal as a soil amendment (see terra preta soils). I've got some modest trials going on now with snap peas and lettuce (zone 5) and can't wait to get it in some tomatoes. I'd love to get a group or a gaggle of gardeners trying it and have some biochar to share with those who will try it. mike


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!