Get the Most Out of Your Strawberry Harvest

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did,” William Allen Butler said of strawberries. As these luscious fruits of late spring now ripen in gardens in much of the country, here are some tips for getting a bountiful harvest.

Don’t wait until strawberries turn dark red to pick them. Pick them when they are still about 25 percent white. In a day, they will turn red, and you won’t be stuck with berries rotted on the vine should it rain and delay your harvesting. Take care not to bruise the berries when picking and always take the whole stem with the fruit.

Store ripe berries in the refrigerator. Wash and remove stems only right before using. Wet strawberries spoil quickly when chilled.

To keep birds and deer away, cover strawberries with tree netting.

Strawberry plants weaken with age and can fall prey to diseases. After the harvest, pull them out and destroy the oldest plants. Then, replace them with fresh plants in new soil.

To start new plants, bury 3-inch pots to soil grade level, and peg new strawberry runners to them using u-shaped bent wire.

For those who wish they were picking strawberries from their own backyard patch, here are some tips to get started:

For a family of four, plant one dozen June-bearing strawberry plants. Each plant will provide about one pint of berries per year.

When buying plants, look for spotless leaves and whitish roots, indicating vigor.

Plant in rich, acidic, well-drained soil. Mix in humus or aged manure.

Soak roots in water for several hours before planting. Overcast days are best to prevent plant stress.

Strawberries are particular. Plant so the crown is just above the soil. If too deep, the plant will rot, and if not deep enough, it will dry out.

Dig a hole a couple inches deeper than the roots. If roots are long, cut with scissors. Don’t fold them up. Mound soil in the center of the hole. Place the plant on top and spread out the roots.

Feed strawberries using compost with a little blood meal with added hoof-and-horn meal.