Local strawberries are in season

There are all kinds of ways everyone can enjoy strawberries. You can grow them at home, pick them yourself at a U-pick operation or buy local berries at farmers markets, roadside stands or at the local produce section at many supermarkets. To find local berry growers either visit your local farmers market or go to www.adirondackharvest.com and do a search. You can search that site by region of the Adirondacks or by the type of berry or other product youre looking for. Anyone producing a local product can join Adirondack Harvest at no cost and be listed on the Web site. Supermarkets are starting to designate areas for local foods to make it easier for you to find them. Take a minute and thank the produce manager where you shop to encourage them to keep up this helpful practice. U-pick operations can be a lot of fun. I like going all by myself early in the morning so I can get my freezers worth of berries all at once. Others make an event of it and bring the family or friends. Its a lot of fun that way, just remember your sunscreen and some water to drink. Young children often enjoy picking, too, for about 15 minutes. To keep the experience from becoming drudgery for the kids, plan short expeditions with them then come back later on your own to get your serious picking accomplished. I speak from experience on this point! The season doesnt end with strawberries. Around mid to late July local blueberries will be in season lasting into August and some farms have raspberries to pick as well. Of all the berries, strawberries are one of the easiest to grow at home. You buy the plants one year and harvest the next. If you manage it well, a strawberry bed can last for years but some gardeners are beginning to grow them as biennials, replanting the bed every few years instead of renovating their existing bed. The plants are rather inexpensive so either method is reasonable. If youre thinking of growing your own, now is a good time to read up and get the site ready for planting next spring. We have an excellent booklet on growing all types of fruit at home, aptly titled, The Cornell Guide to Growing Fruit at Home for $10. You can also print off the entire 100 page book or just the pages you need for free at www.gardening.cornell.edu/fruit/index.html. You really need to read the chapter on strawberries to learn all you need to know, but heres a brief review: To grow strawberries you need well-drained soil, preferably a sandy-loam rather than heavy clay. Set the plants one to two feet apart in rows four feet apart or make one long row. Pick off any flowers that form the first year so the plant can get well established and your first harvest will be the following June. They need water during drought, fertilizer right after harvest and a light layer of straw mulch over the winter. To keep your beds producing for years you need to renovate them each year immediately after harvest. Mow off the leaves, use a rototiller to narrow the beds to a foot wide, fertilize then water them well. Weeds are the biggest challenge in home strawberry beds as well as a couple of insects. Look for disease resistant varieties to reduce problems there. Or, if youre busy like me, support your local growers and buy from them! Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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