We've recently wrapped up Northern Illinois Berry School in the region with programs in Rockford, Amboy, DeKalb, and Elizabeth. The program was designed to give you as both new growers and homeowners the opportunity to find out more about growing strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries along with an introduction on pruning/seasonal management and insect/diseases issues.

Like some of you, I don't have access to land to grow fruits and vegetables. My space is confined to a 10 x 10 ft deck that gets about 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. While some might find this limiting, I've risen to the challenge to see how much produce I can actually get off this deck this summer.

Because I don't have land, this means I can't grow the vining crops like cucumbers, squash, and others. It means I also can't grow corn which needs a number of rows for good pollination. I am limited to growing in containers then.

Unlike the berries and brambles I've written about in our berry and bramble series, I occasionally receive calls and emails asking about growing alternative berries. These are berries you've probably heard about in the last couple of years due to their increasing popularity based on the fruits having high antioxidants and large concentration of beneficial vitamins. For instance, Aronia is a tart berry that grows particularly well on Midwest farms and has seen a lot of research efforts into growing. Because of the sudden popularity of Aronia, growers are always looking for the "next" berry.

Strawberry management focuses on weeding, watering, controlling the stolons, and renovating the strawberry patch. Some of these are ongoing such as weeding and watering while other ones like renovating will come in to play in year 2-3. Many of these practices will depend on what your strawberry setup looks like. Smaller plantings may control weeds with hand-weeding while rows of strawberries will need a more robust weed management strategy.

Strawberries are one of the most common berries grown in Northern Illinois at both homes and farms. Unlike other berries and brambles, strawberries do not always require intensive management such as pruning. Strawberry plants do need some attention when it comes to yearly management, dealing with runners from the plants, and preparing the strawberry plants for winter protection.

There are three types of strawberries which include June bearing, everbearing, and day neutral.

Now that you've decided on the type of raspberry you are going to grow, you'll need to address the plant's needs through management. Raspberry plants benefit from mulching around the plants. This should be no thicker than 2 inches to avoid rodents. The mulch can help with weed control and keeping water in the soil. Raspberry plants should have frequent, shallow irrigation of 1-1/2 inches every 7-10 days. Having a rain gauge nearby can determine if your plants are getting the water they need or if you will need to irrigate further.

Now that you've got your strawberry system setup and are managing them, you may have diseases and insect pests to deal with. Strawberries tend to have many different diseases that target them. They can affect the fruit, leaves, stolons, and the roots of the plant. Insect pests on strawberries are those that may eat the leaves, fruits, and flowers. When dealing with what you suspect is either insect damage or disease, it's best to look through Extension guides that are available. Damage from insects and diseases can look very similar.