Growing Organic Strawberry Plants

Growing Organic Strawberry Plants: Summary

This excellent document was produced by a very skilled and knowledgeable team from Cornell University. The coordinating editors were Juliet Carroll, Marvin Pritts, and Catherine Heindenreich.  Multiple contributors included: Kerik Cox, Greg Loeb, Michael Helms, Andrew Landers, Paul Curtis, Courtney Weber, and Laura McDermott.  The staff writers were Elizabeth Graeper Thomas and Theodora Bucien, while Mary Kirkwyland and Michelle Marks further edited the 2013 version of this guide.  This production was funded in part by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.  For each of the departments and specialties represented by the contributing team, download the resource via the link at the end of this page.

The following is covered in the publication:

Introduction to Growing Organic Strawberries

1.  There are three main obstacles to successfully cultivating strawberries organically.

Weeds are a primary concern for those intending to grow organic strawberries.  Especially during the first year of cultivation, the management of weeds and invasive/undesirable plant growth can negatively impact yield for not only the first year, but subsequent years as well.  The successful management of weeds is the primary and most important hurdle that must be overcome if one is to successfully break from conventional treatments when growing strawberries.

Nitrogen Availability
Strawberry plants need the most nitrogen in the early spring and late fall.  It can be difficult to supply enough nitrogen to growing plants using only organic methods.  Lack of sufficient nitrogen in the soil can cause stunted or unhealthy plants.  But even if there is enough for health, lower-than-optimal levels can decrease yields across multiple growing seasons.  This obstacle can be overcome, however.

Pests and Pathogens
Most growers who leave conventional methods behind typically do so either over their own concerns about the use of herbicides or pesticides or fungicides on the produce they consume or to cater to consumers who see those issues as paramount.  Without using the effective insect and organism controls, however, growers can be placed at the mercy of the weather.  One problem that can be brutal to those foregoing all chemical sprays is the development of grey mold on strawberries.  If the weather is favorable to the development of grey mold on the fruit, an organic farmer has little recourse and may end up losing a significant portion of his crop.

2.  There are 5 traits that organic production systems usually share.

Successful organic systems usually practice crop rotations of three to five years.  Successive strawberry crops generally occur several years apart.

Since weeds and nitrogen availability are significant problems, only one or two fruiting years are allowed per planting.  Otherwise, perennial weeds are established and take a toll on production, and the nitrogen in the soil is depleted.

The demands of hand-weeding and frequent light cultivation raise the time/expense of supplying manpower maintenance during production over conventional methods.

Following the second characteristic just above, the buildup of perennial weeds and pests lowers yield in older plantings.

Organic strawberry systems tend to have much higher yield variability due to the fact that weather and pests tend to have a much larger impact on production.

Organic Certification

3.  Organic certification is not required for everyone.  You do need to be certified if you want to use the “organic” or other qualified label and you will be grossing more than $5,000 per year in organic product sales.  A USDA National Organic Program certifying agency will have to be used.  An organic farm plan will be central in helping you obtain and maintain certification.  Details are provided to help you gain organic certification in the resource linked below.

Preparing for the Production of Organic Strawberry Plants

4.  Guidelines for soil health are provided, as well as site selection.  Manure and other organic amendments are important, and application intervals should be carefully observed.  The air and drainage requirements and other considerations for obtaining organic certification as it applies to the growing site are discussed.  Cover crops, crop history, and other essential considerations are proffered also.

5.  Variety selection for different regions will vary.  See recommendations for your area.  In New York, the varieties that are considered to have the greatest potential for organic growing are: Earliglow (early season), L’Amour (early/midseason), Winona (midseason), Mesabi (midseason), Allstar (mid/late season), Clancy (late season).

6.  Growing helps are provided, including where and how to test your soil.  Amendments are listed to help manage nitrogen levels.  The relative benefits of blood meal, fish meal, feather meal, alfalfa meal, and soy meal are provided in table form.

Pest and Pathogen Management in the Organic Strawberry Garden

7.  In order to develop a sustainable organic strawberry farm, pest and pathogen management is imperative.  Each planting must be carefully evaluated and tracked.  Every problem must be carefully monitored: drainage issues, plant loss, pest outbreaks, etc. must be carefully observed, recorded, and understood.  The steps to developing a successful integrated pest management plan are discussed in the resource.  Weed control techniques are discussed, as are the principles of disease and insect management, which include: avoidance, eradication, and protection.

8.  Specific management options are provided for the most common and most damaging problems: leaf blight, leaf scorch, leaf spot, powdery mildew, grey mold, anthracnose, leather rot, red stele, black root rot, angular leaf spot, verticillium wilt, root weevils, strawberry sap beetles, picnic beetles, tarnished plant bugs, two-spotted spider mites, spotted wing drosophila, bud weevils, spittle bugs, strawberry rootworms, greenhouse whiteflies, cyclamen mites, leaf rollers, aphids, potato leafhoppers, japanese beetles, and slugs.  Larger potential pests are discussed, as well as deterrents to: mice, voles, racoons, foxes, deer, and woodchucks.

Other Considerations for Growing Organic Strawberries

9.  Tables with all the approved pesticides and herbicides allowed for use while still maintaining the organic designation are presented.  How to harvest and care for the strawberries once picked is also discussed.  Numerous references are provided for additional research and education.

Growing Organic Strawberry Plants: Conclusion

This publication is an important addition to the Strawberry Plants Library and should be referenced by anyone considering the viability and profitability of beginning an organic strawberry producing operation.  Organic strawberry production is usually not quite as profitable as conventional growing, but the price demanded by cleaner strawberries can offset the lower yields available for sale.  Additionally, taking the time necessary to do the preparatory work required to obtain organic certification and develop a sustainable growing plan and farm plan can yield better results.  Be sure to download and carefully review this resource made available by the experts at Cornell University.

File Type: .pdf

Length: 62 pages


4 thoughts on “Growing Organic Strawberry Plants”

  1. moved to a new house I brought a lot of my everbears with me which are doing well but there was a raised garden with many strawberry plants already here but even though they look quite healthy only a few put out flowers in late spring and that was it now all they are doing is putting out runners like crazy if I cut the runners will I get flowers again or is this just a one time bearer a yr?

  2. Do you know of any proven successful methods for controlling cyclamen mites in strawberries? Hot water dip, neem oil, beneficial’s…? I have tried hot water dip per UCLA Davis recommendations and it killed my bareroot plants. Please Help! Thanks

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