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MINTER: Get ready for June strawberries

I t's hard to imagine a June garden without the mouth-watering flavour of strawberries and the good news is, planted now, both the 'everbearing' and 'day neutral' varieties will produce fruit this year.

It's hard to imagine a June garden without the mouth-watering flavour of strawberries and the good news is, planted now, both the 'everbearing' and 'day neutral' varieties will produce fruit this year. For serious strawberry growers, however, the 'June bearing' varieties still produce high volumes of very large flavourful fruit. Traditionally, main season strawberry varieties, planted now, will develop into good sized plants over the summer and fall, then produce great crops next year. You will get a few fruits the first year but they're just a tease for the next season. The flower buds of June berries are initiated in the shorter days of autumn, then produce good crops the following June.

Some of the great 'June bearing' varieties for our area are:

Hood: This variety has very large dark red cone-shaped berries on upright vigourous plants. It has great flavour and is terrific fresh and for jams.

Rainier: The good sized berries of this variety maintain their size all through the season and have great flavour.

Sumas: This very heavy yielding variety has lighter red berries and very good flavour.

Totem: This very hardy variety, developed at the Canada Research Station in Agassiz, is still a favourite for productivity and good sized fruit.

Stolo: Newer variety with large, firm, glossy fruits which keep their size throughout the season

Puget Reliance: The beauty of this variety is its generous crops of very large fruits and its reliability to produce in a wide range of growing conditions.

Chandler: A huge California variety with outstanding flavour, it does very well on the West Coast.

While many strawberry plants can produce only one harvest in spring, 'Everbearing' varieties have the unique ability to produce two and sometimes three harvests each year while the days are long.

Another distinct advantage of the 'everbearing' types is that they can flower and produce fruit and runners all at the same time. The runners will produce fruit even without rooting and this unique ability makes them ideal for growing in containers, hanging baskets and other unusual garden situations. They will also provide good quality fruit the first year.

Some of the top 'everbearing' varieties are:

Fort Laramie: This variety is noted for its vast runner production and is often sold as a 'climbing' variety. It has good sized, very flavourful fruit.

Quinault: Still one of the best 'everbearing' varieties, it has good sized, very flavourful fruit.

The 'day neutral' varieties will initiate fruit buds during both short and long days, providing more continuous crops and they are perhaps the most productive, providing tasty berries all summer and into the fall. Some of the top 'day neutral' varieties are:

Tristar: This variety is still one of the most popular 'day neutrals'. It has medium sized flavourful berries and is very disease tolerant.

Aroma: A disease-resistant variety with good crops of delicious large firm fruits having great colour and sheen.

Seascape: This is a new introduction with high quality and flavourful fruits that are red all the way through.

Albion: A new variety with long conical fruits having excellent flavour and producing a constant supply of berries throughout the summer.

Eversweet: The medium to large sized berries of this variety are noted for their high sugar content.

For the best results, all strawberries need a sunny location and good drainage. Growing them in raised beds or hilled rows creates not only good drainage but also warmer soil. They love moisture but it must drain away quickly to prevent root rot. Although slightly acid-loving, working well rotted manures into the soil will help get strawberry plants off to a good start. When setting out the plants, it is very important to plant them to a depth that just covers the roots but not the stem. Planting strawberries too shallow or too deep can cause them to dry out or to rot.

A good liquid starter, like Transplanter 5-15-5, used as a side dressing, will help get them off to a good start. Once flowers set, use a fertilizer like 10-15-19 with micro-nutrients to really size up the berries. If we get a dry spell during the ripening stage and this applies to the 'everbearing' and the 'day-neutrals', make sure you water thoroughly and deeply to keep the plants growing and to maintain their sweetness.

Strawberries taste great and they also do lots of other terrific things for us. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in their research on strawberries, discovered that a strawberry flavonoid, called fisetin, can stimulate signalling pathways in the brain, thus enhancing long term memory. Strawberries also lower systolic blood pressure and can reduce the risk of heart disease. This berry is also high in folate that can help lower the risk factors in heart disease. Strawberries are also loaded with vitamins C and K, contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium and are an excellent source of antioxidants.

April is a great time to begin planting, so find a spot in your garden and enjoy some wonderful flavour this year and for years to come.

Brian Minter is owner of Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.