Fruit sets three to five weeks after blossoming; for best flavour, harvest when fully ripe. Pick every couple of days so the berries won't spoil, ideally in the morning when the fruit is cool—they should keep longer. Pinch off, leaving a green cap and a bit of stem attached to each strawberry to help protect it from damage. Refrigerate unwashed berries immediately and use within a couple of days (note, however, that berries stored at room temperature keep their flavour better).
Replenishing the patch
Strawberry plants produce fewer and smaller berries with age; renew beds every three years or so. It's best to start the bed in a new location to reduce problems with disease. You can buy new plants, which gives you the advantage of starting out with disease-free stock, or you can create a new patch with runners from the original plants.
To do so, make sure the plantlets that form at the ends of the runners have contact with the earth. Once the daughter plant has rooted, transplant it to the new site; water well and mulch. Or, for more vigorous plants that will produce a better crop the following year, let the plantlets root into 7.5-centimetre, soil-filled pots buried in the ground up to their rims.
Once rooted, cut the runner and move the daughter plant to a new location. Make sure all transplanting is done by mid-to-late August (depending on length of season) so the plantlets develop a good root system, which they will need to survive the winter.
Tips for top strawberries
- Keep plants well weeded and properly spaced for good air circulation; cultivate shallowly to avoid damaging roots.
- Regularly check soil under the mulch; water when surface is dry. Strawberries need 2.5 centimetres of water a week, or fruit will be small and dry. After irrigating, make sure the water has soaked deeply into the soil, as it may take some time for it to penetrate the mulch.
- Side-dress with compost or a balanced organic fertilizer when plants begin to flower and again midway through growing season.
- Except in coastal British Columbia, strawberries need winter protection. After the ground has frozen but before temperatures drop to –6°C, cover plants with a layer of straw, old hay, evergreen boughs or dead leaves, 10 to 15 centimetres thick, depending on severity of winters in your area.
- In early spring, when trees start to leaf out, rake back mulch around strawberry plants, work in 2.5 to five centimetres of compost, fertilize and replace mulch.
- Strawberry flowers can be damaged or killed by frost, reducing or eliminating fruit production. When frost threatens, protect plants with an additional layer of straw or old blankets.