Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Amy Stone


Swooning over strawberries

Get out of the row; Look with your hands; Eat it up


Kelly Heidbreder


Some gardeners like to grow strawberries. I like to pick them, and I especially like to eat them.

I like to drag my kids to the nearby strawberry patch and load up on berries for jelly, pie, and shortcake, of course. I was born in June, so strawberry shortcake is always loaded up with candles on my big day.

For the past month, the locally grown strawberries are ready to be picked, washed, sliced, or squished. I stopped by Johnston’s Fruit Farm in Swanton and dragged my hands through their rows for a little while, plucking huge, sweet strawberries. Martha Mora is the second generation of the Johnston Family that is helping families harvest strawberries. 

The 60 acres of apples, four acres of peaches, two acres of blueberries, and an acre of raspberries keep them very busy all year round. Her parents, Dale and Pauline, started growing peaches and strawberries back in 1954. She says, “This farm ground is sandy loam soil which is perfect for growing strawberries. They have always grown well here.” 

You don’t have to have acres of berries to enjoy the homegrown benefit. Plant strawberries as edging around your landscape. A single row of strawberries planted around the outside edge of your garden will fill in about a two-foot strip. 

Martha says they grow many varieties of June bearing strawberries on their farm. There are three types of strawberries: spring or June bearers, everbearers, and day neutrals. June bearers usually have larger fruit and will produce a crop in two or three weeks in the spring and have early, mid, and late varieties. 

Everbearing and day neutral strawberries will bloom three or more times a summer and don’t spread as much as the other types of strawberries. These make great plants for containers or edging that doesn’t get out of control. 

Strawberry plants don’t need a whole lot of help spreading out. They are natural propagators. Martha says, “The original plant will send out shoots, or daughter plants. That’s what you want it to do to give you the most berries.” 

If you are planting your strawberries in rows, give them about four feet between rows and two feet between plants. This will give them a little room to fill in. She says the strawberry plants stop producing new fruit by the end of June. They mow their rows down after July 4 and till the walkway between the rows to keep the berry patch from getting scraggly and overgrown. 

“The strawberry plant will start to produce its fruit blossoms in August, even though they don’t appear until next spring. Stop fertilizing them in the early fall so they can prepare for winter. You will get your first fruit usually 30 days after you see the first bloom open up.” 

If all goes well, you should have plenty of strawberries to go around. A crop of 50 to 70 plants will be more than enough to feed a family of five. 

Look with your hands 

Once you are ready to pick, Martha says to look with your hands. “Gently separate the leaves of the plant and feel around under the leaves to feel the strawberries hanging there. It is much quicker to pick lots of strawberries that way.” Leave the green berries on the stem. They will ripen in a few days and give you another reason to hit the patch before the end of the fruiting season. 

Picking berries early in the morning is best. “The temperature is a little cooler and the plant is holding the most moisture at that hour. All of those things will help you pick the fruit when it is plump and juicy,” she says. 

Eat it up 

OK, this is the best part. You can stock your shelves with jelly, bake a few pies, or freeze them for smoothies or your morning cereal. I like to get my fill of strawberries over my mom’s secret shortcake recipe. And since I have so many strawberries, I just might have to have two helpings. 

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at 

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