Rejunvenating the Strawberry Patch

In October of 2011, I set out 150 strawberry plants in three 3’x50′ rows. Those plants have grown and spread all year producing numerous healthy runners that have taken root to become their own mature plant. Now there is at least triple the number of strawberry plants in these same three rows. You can imagine how crowded things are.

Rejuvenating a strawberry patch means that the bed will be thoroughly cleaned and that plants will be thinned to allow room for the remaining plants to spread and grow during the next growing season.

There is a lot of cleaning to be done in our beds. Last June we scattered old hay throughout the strawberry patch to cool the soil and keep it moist during the hot summer, but now this old hay has sprouted into millions of tiny (and not so tiny) weeds! Since all our field work is done by hand, there is at least a week long job of cutting back plants, removing old mulch, and digging out weeds to do, and because there is so many weeds, the old mulch and plant material can not be added to the compost. There will be no more hay mulch used in our field ~ ever! We hauled off the remaining bails and threw them to the dogs, literally.

Anyway, yesterday I spent six hours working in one bed and only 3/4 of it is cleaned and cut. To clean the bed I first cut the plants back so that only 2 or 3 inches was remaining above the plant’s crown and then I remove any broken or darkened stems. ALL dried plant matter was cleaned out along with the old hay. I loosened the soil with a hand trowel and/or garden fork and pulled out the weeds, every tiny one was removed. Last, I thinned the plants by digging out a few of them to make room for the remaining one to spread next spring. When I finish the last 1/4 of the bed I will spread a mix of organic soil amendments over the entire thing then cover the bed with new wheat straw mulch to insulate the plants against chilly nighttime temperatures. I will probably have to add a thicker layer of straw later in the winter to prevent the plant roots from freezing.

Late next February or early March (depending on weather) we’ll gently pull the straw away from the plants to expose them to the warm spring sun. We’ll leave the straw in the bed to mulch the soil. The only concern I have about using wheat straw for mulch is that occasionally the wheat sprouts in the spring, but young wheat is a lot easier to control than all those weeds.