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How to grow the tastiest strawberries

StrawberriesCompared to storebought strawberries, or even to fruits from conventional you-pick operations, any kind of homegrown strawberry is delicious.  However, once I'd been spoiled by gorging on my own berries for two weeks, I started to notice taste differences from bed to bed.  My favorite beds became the source of strawberries for fresh eating, while other beds were relegated freezer jam or strawberry leather.  What's the difference?

I've written previously about how heavy rains can cause micronutrient deficiencies that in turn degrade the taste of strawberries.  Similarly, I mentioned that strawberries picked on hot, sunny afternoons are tastier than those picked in the morning or soon after rains.  These factors aren't influencing the current taste differences, though, since all of our plants have been exposed to the same rainy weather.

Variety is one obvious cause of taste differences.  In addition to our alpine strawberries, we're growing two June-bearing varieties (Honeoye and Jewel) and one ever-bearing variety (Ozark Beauty.)  The fruits are smaller and less prolific on the Ozark Beauty, but these plants are our consistent taste-test winners.  Honeoye is a close runner up, especially early in the season, although the flavor tends to degrade as the plants reach the end of their fruiting season.  Jewel is my least favorite strawberry for flavor, but I've kept growing it Topping strawberriesbecause the fruits start a couple of weeks later than Honeoye (our earliest variety), extending spring strawberry season to a full month.  If anyone has a favorite late, June-bearing strawberry, I'd love to hear what variety you grow!

Another factor that causes a decline in fruit quality is age of the strawberry bed.  Each season after the plants stop producing, I drastically thin the beds and add a heavy top-dressing of composted manure.  Despite all of this TLC, our best-tasting strawberries still come from the beds that I just planted last fall.  These beds don't produce nearly as much fruit since the plants have had less than a year to store up energy, but what they lack in quantity they make up in quality.  I suspect that the best rotation would be allowing strawberry plants to stay in the ground for two years so that I can have heavy yields for drying from the older beds while saving the fruits from the younger beds for our table.

Strawberry jamWhen I did a blind taste test of our strawberry beds and compared my flavor rating to the age of the bed, one four year old bed produced strawberries just as delicious (or maybe more so!) than the newest beds.  This elderly bed is located in the part of the garden that was used by the previous owners as an ash heap, and decades later, big chunks of biochar are still visible in the soil.  Could the biochar be responsible for this aberration in flavor?  I guess I know which crops I'll use with my next biochar experiment!

(As a side note, the photos in this post showcase Mom and Maggie's experiments with their three gallons of Walden Effect strawberries.  Half a gallon were given away, a gallon were topped and put in the freezer, three cups turned into a honey-sweetened jam, and the rest were eaten raw or saved for more experiments.)

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.


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I've read several places that the amount of calcium in the soil is the key for sweeter strawberries.
Comment by lisa Mon May 30 11:29:35 2011
Interesting! Our soil overlays limestone, so calcium is not in very short supply. However, I have read that plants can perceive a lack of calcium despite there being plenty in the soil if the balance between calcium and other positively charged micronutrients is off. I wonder if the wood ashes provided just the right mixture of micronutrients to keep that from occurring? Or perhaps the fungi living in the biochar were able to hold onto those positively charged micronutrients better than the regular soil in other beds?
Comment by anna Mon May 30 18:50:57 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime