Have you had fresh strawberries yet this year? I love fresh strawberry shortcake, but I most enjoy eating them right in the garden. I usually also make strawberry jam and freeze some for winter treats.
If you don't grow your own, local strawberries are available at many locations near you. You'll find them at farmer's markets, roadside stands, and sometimes growers sell at local grocery stores. I have a listing of farmers markets in our area on my ILRiverHort blog at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt. Let me know if there are more to add!
Strawberries are easy to grow in your own garden. If you don't grow them yet, consider planting some next spring, which is best time to plant new strawberries.
Strawberries can be grown in the ground or in containers. There are three types of strawberries grown in Illinois: June bearing or spring bearing, everbearing and day neutral. Fruits of day neutral plants and everbearers are usually smaller than June-bearers fruit.
If you have your own strawberry patch, right after harvest is the time to prepare the strawberry planting for next year's crop. According to David Robson, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Specialist, this process may include mowing, weeding, and fertilizing.
Many gardeners and growers mow off the leaves as the first step. Mowing will usually make it easier to clean up a weedy patch and to apply fertilizers. Mow high enough to avoid clipping the crown. Apply a complete fertilizer such as 12-12-12 at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet of plant row. The aisles should be cultivated or covered with organic mulch deep enough to keep weeds and excess strawberry plants from growing.
University of Illinois Extension has a couple of great resources on strawberries. Small Fruits in the Home Garden includes information on how to select strawberry cultivars, grow the plants to maturity, harvest and store fruits until ready for use, and how to prepare them for family dining. The book also covers raspberries, blackberries, and other small fruits. Spiral bound and easy to read, this 78-page book costs $6.00. It is available at https://pubsplus.illinois.edu/ or you can order a copy through your local Extension office.
The University of Illinois Extension Strawberries and More website is found at http://extension.illinois.edu/strawberries/. This website is your guide to growing strawberries, u-pick strawberry farms, strawberry nutrition, selection & care, and more.
The next time you eat a strawberry, look at it closely. The strawberry, a member of the rose family, is unique in that it is the only fruit with seeds on the outside rather than the inside. Happy Eating!