Freshly harvested local strawberries may soon be spotted on holiday tables in the mid-Atlantic region. An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist developed a new method for propagating June-bearing strawberry varieties that allows the plants to fruit in the fall, continue fruiting until December, and then fruit again in the spring.
This double cropping of June-bearing strawberries is a phenomenon not normally observed in the mid-Atlantic states, where the plants traditionally flower and bear fruit only in spring.
The new method of double cropping June-bearing strawberries requires harvesting small plants (called runner tips) from mother plants in early July. Those tips are put into 8-cubic-inch containers and placed under water misters for rooting. Eight-week-old transplants are planted in the field in early September. They will flower and fruit during the same fall.
With the standard method, runner tips are harvested in early August and planted in the field as four-week-old transplants. They will flower and bear fruit only during the following spring.
There are clear economic benefits for growers who wish to use Takeda's method. Not only are two crops harvested in one year, but fruit harvested in late fall or early winter commands prices four times as high as fruit harvested in the May-June period.
Where the danger of freeze exists in late fall and early winter, plastic tunnels must be used to protect the fruit. The tunnels are relatively inexpensive and are easy to erect in the field. The added benefit of their presence is an earlier and higher-priced spring crop.
Takeda is now evaluating the performance of strawberry plants produced by the new method in Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As of early December, fruit harvest was proceeding in all these locations and is expected to continue--until the end of December in colder sites, and much longer in warmer locations.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agricultures chief scientific research agency.