Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Berries and Small Fruits - Setting, Cultivation and mulching

Besides the tree-fruits discussed in the preceding chapters, there is another class which should be represented in every home garden-- the berries and small fruits. These have the advantage of occupying
much less room than the former do and are therefore available where the others are not.

The methods of giving berries proper cultivation are not so generally known as the methods used with vegetables. Otherwise there is no reason why a few of each should not be included in every garden of average size. Their requirements are not exacting: the amount of skill, or rather of attention, required to care for them is not more than that required by the ordinary vegetables. In fact, once they are well established they will demand less time than the annual vegetables. Of these small fruits the most popular and useful are: the strawberry, the blackberry, dewberry and raspberry, the currant, gooseberry and grape.

The strawberry is the most important, and most amateurs attempt its culture--many, however, with indifferent success. This is due, partly at least, to the fact that many methods are advocated by successful growers, and that the beginner is not likely to pick out one and stick to it; and further, that he is led to pay more attention to how many layers he will have, and at what distance he will set the plants, than to proper selection and preparation of soil and other vital matters.

The soil should be well drained and rich--a good garden soil being suitable. The strawberries should not follow sod or corn. If yard manure is used it should be old and well rotted, so as to be as free as possible from weed seeds. potassium, in some form (see Fertilizers) should be added. The bed should be thoroughly prepared, so that the plants, which need careful transplanting, may take hold at once. A good sunny
exposure is preferable, and a spot where no water will collect is essential.

The plants are grown from "layers." They are taken in two ways: (1) by rooting the runners in the soil; and (2) by layering in pots. In the former method they are either allowed to root themselves, or, which gives decidedly better results, by selecting vines from strong plants and pushing them lightly down into the soil where the new crown is to be formed. In the second method, two-inch or three-inch pots are used, filling these with soil from the bed and plunging, or burying, them level with the surface, just below where the crown is to be formed, and holding the vine in place with a small stone, which serves the additional purpose of marking where the pot is. In either case these layers are made after the fruiting season.


In using the soil-rooted layers, it is generally more satisfactory to set them out in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, although they are sometimes set in early fall--August or September--when the ground is in very good condition, so that a good growth can at once be made. Care should be used in transplanting. Have the bed fresh; keep the plants out of the soil as short a time as possible; set the plants
in straight, and firm the soil; set just down to the crown--do not cover it. If the soil is dry, or the season late, cut off all old leaves before planting; also shorten back the roots about one-third and be sure not to crowd them when setting, for which purpose a trowel, not a dibble, should be used if the condition of the ground makes the use of any implement necessary. If so dry that water must be used, apply it in the bottom of the hole. If very hot and dry, shade for a day or two.


Here I will describe the three systems most valuable for the home garden:
(1) the hill, (2) the matted row, and (3) the pot-layered.

(1) In the hill system the plants are put in single rows, or in beds of three or four rows, the plants one foot apart and the rows, or beds, two or three feet apart. In either case each plant is kept separate, and all runners are pinched off as fast as they form, the idea being to throw all the strength into one strong crown.

(2) In the matted row system the plants are set in single rows, and the runners set in the bed at five or six inches each side of the plants, and then trained lengthways of the row, this making it a foot or so wide.
The runners used to make these secondary crowns must be the first ones sent out by the plants; they should be severed from the parent plants as soon as well rooted. All other runners must be taken off as they form. To keep the beds for a good second crop, where the space between the rows has been kept cultivated and clean, cut out the old plants as soon as the first crop of berries is gathered, leaving the new ones--layered the year before-- about one foot apart.

(3) The pot-layering system, especially for a small number of plants, I consider the best. It will be seen that by the above systems the ground is occupied three years, to get two crops, and the strawberry season is a
short one at best. By this third system the strawberry is made practically an annual, and the finest of berries are produced. The new plants are layered in pots, as described above. The layers are taken immediately
after the fruit is gathered; or better still, because earlier, a few plants are picked out especially to make runners. In either case, fork up the soil about the plants to be layered, and in about fifteen days they will be ready to have the pots placed under them. The main point is to have pot plants ready to go into the new bed as soon as possible after the middle of July.
These are set out as in the hill system, and all runners kept pinched off, so that a large crown has been formed by the time the ground freezes, and a full crop of the very best berries will be assured for the following spring. The pot-layering is repeated each year, and the old plants thrown out, no attempt being made to get a second crop. It will be observed that ground is occupied by the strawberries only the latter
half of the one season and the beginning of the next, leaving ample time for a crop of early lettuce, cabbage or peas before the plants are set, say in 1911, and for late cabbage or celery after the bed is thrown out, in 1912. Thus the ground is made to yield three crops in two years--a very important point where garden space is limited.


Whatever system is used--and each has its advocates--the strawberry bed must be kept clean, and attention given to removing the surplus runners. Cultivate frequently enough to keep a dust mulch between the rows, as advocated for garden crops. At first, after setting, the cultivation may be as deep as three or four inches, but as the roots develop and fill the ground it should be restricted to two inches at most.


After the ground freezes, and before severe cold sets in (about the 1st to the 15th of December) the bed should be given its winter mulch. Bog hay, which may be obtained cheaply from some nearby farmer, is about the best material. Clean straw will do. Cover the entire bed, one or
two inches over the plants, and two or three between the rows. If necessary, hold in place with old boards. In spring, but not before the plants begin to grow, over each plant the mulch is pushed aside to let it through. Besides giving winter protection, the mulch acts as a clean even support for the berries and keeps the roots cool and moist.