Last year I tried something new in the garden – day-neutral strawberries. Unlike the June bearing strawberries that give one crop during the year, day-neutrals produce strawberries throughout the season.
I was really impressed with Tribute, the variety of day-neutral strawberry that I grew last season. The plants established themselves quickly and there was a fairly steady supply of strawberries from July until frost. The berries tasted good, they held up well and the only minor problem was a few picnic beetles.
I was looking forward to seeing what they would do this year. All but a couple of the plants overwintered but as the spring progressed, I noticed that while the plants were blooming, there weren’t a lot of blooms. There have been some berries but they’re few and far between. I thought that there might be more in the coming weeks but when I checked the plants closely, there are hardly any buds forming.
So what’s going on? After searching the eastern land-grant colleges’ web sites, I found out what the problem is – day-neutral strawberries are generally grown as an annual crop. That means that while the plants will over winter, to produce a decent amount of strawberries, you need to plant new plants every year. If you keep plants through the second year, the harvest drops off and you only get a few berries. While none of the companies offering these strawberry plants for sale say that they should be grown as annuals, almost all of the fruit research stations suggest this for best production.
I was glad to find an explanation to what was happening in the garden. It’s not me or the cultural conditions; it’s the strawberry plants!
I could keep the plants in the ground and be happy with the few strawberries that they’ll produce throughout the year but to me it’s not worth it. There are other things that I can grow where the strawberries are that will produce a much bigger harvest.
So will I grow day-neutral strawberries again? I don’t know. It was nice to have fresh strawberries in the summer and fall and the plants weren’t very expensive. But is growing them the best use of my garden space? Again, I’m not sure. All I do know is that I’m going to pull up the plants and say “Adios” to the day-neutral strawberries for now.
Over the past few years, I’ve regularly planted a fall vegetable garden. In August I plant things like kale, chard, lettuce, beets and carrots. All of these plants do well in the cooler fall weather and they make use of the space in the garden where the summer crops once grew.
But yesterday I brought in an unusual harvest for late September. I picked a pint of strawberries, a couple zucchini and a nice bunch of green beans – not your typical fall harvest.
The strawberries came from the day-neutral plants that I set out in April. They’ve grown well this year and the fall harvest has been good. I thought they might not have a true strawberry taste but that isn’t the case. The berries are great and the cooler weather is limiting the picnic beetle damage.
I’m harvesting zucchini because I planted some seeds in late July. This year the earlier plants had been killed by borers and not bacterial wilt. The borers aren’t a problem after early July so I thought I’d give a late planting a try. The plants grew well and started producing very early. I’ve noticed that the cooler weather has slowed the growth of the fruit but that’s actually a good thing. Instead of being inundated with squash, I’m picking a few squash each week. The plants have developed some fungus on the leaves but aside from that they look good.
During the season I sowed a few plantings of beans. They did OK but the plants were very small due to the dry summer that we had. I had read that you can plant beans in this area until the beginning of August so I tried a late planting. The seeds germinated quickly in the warm soil and plants are the best of the season. We’ve had some nice rain and the beans are producing well. The only difference from a summer crop is that I don’t have to pick them as often. In the heat of summer I’d be picking them every few days; now I’m picking them about once a week.
It seems a little strange to be harvesting these summer crops in September but I’m not complaining. It’s nice to have the taste of summer on a cool autumn day.
About a week ago I was checking on the two asian pear trees that are growing in the yard to see how soon I could start harvest pears. I was surprised to see that a number of the pears had been partially eaten by a wasp or hornet that I’d never seen before. It was a very handsome insect – that is if you’ll allow insects to be called handsome – with a black body and white markings.
Baldfaced Hornet on an Asian Pear
After a little searching, I learned that these pear eaters are baldfaced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata). They get their name from the white markings on their heads. While they’re called “hornets,” these insects aren’t true hornets but are instead yellowjackets.
Baldfaced hornets are found in all of North America and live in papery nests that are found in trees or bushes, though they can be built under the eaves of building. These nests can be up to 2′ high and 18″ wide. At the center of the nest is the queen and the mission of all of the workers is to feed the larva. In the spring and early summer baldfaced hornets focus on finding protein sources for the developing larvae. The primary sources of this protein are flies, other yellowjackets and a variety of other insects. As the season goes on, there are fewer larvae to fed so the baldfaced hornets turn to nectar and other sources of carbohydrates.
It was the free source of carbohydrates that drew these insects to the asian pears. The fruit had just begun to ripen but it was ripe enough for them. While I don’t like losing fruit to the baldfaced hornet, after a season of them killing flies, yellowjackets and other insects, I’m willing to overlook a few lost pears.
Baldfaced hornets can sting and, like other yellowjackets, they have a smooth stinger so they can sting repeatedly. While there is some danger of being stung, the baldfaced hornet is in truth a beneficial insect. It kills unwanted insects and, when it’s searching for nectar, it helps to pollinate flowers.
On the day I noticed this insect I harvested all of the undamaged pears. Since that time I haven’t seen another baldfaced hornet. But I’ll be expecting their return next summer to let me know when the pears are getting ripe.
Here it is, the end of July, and every few days I’m going out to the garden to pick strawberries. It’s so strange! The day-neutral strawberries that I planted in April are bearing a lot of fruit. Information that I’d read said that the strawberries in the summer would be small but I’ve been very pleased with the size of the berries. Also the inflorescences of the plants are sturdy and often hold the fruit above the ground, something you almost never see in a June bearing strawberry.
Close Up of a Picnic Beetle – note the knobbed antennae
The only insect problem I’ve had is the picnic beetle (Glischrochilus quadrisignatus). This beetle is one of a number of sap beetles that are drawn to overripe or fermented fruit. While I just learned the name of this beetle, I often saw it burrowing into the stem ends of overripe muskmelons when I was growing up.
One of the identifying characteristics of all sap beetles is their “knobbed” antennae. Picnic beetles are about 1/4″ long and black with four orange spots on the wing covers. When these beetles are disturbed they pull in their antennae and legs under their bodies and “play possum.” Once the perceived danger is gone, the antenna and legs re-emerge and the beetles go back to feeding.
Picnic Beetle Damage
Picnic beetles overwinter as adults in decaying organic matter. In the spring they lay eggs and the larva feed on plant materials and later pupate in the soil. New adults emerge in June and July. While this insect causes some damage to fruit, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. Sanitation in the garden – removing any decaying or rotted fruit – will help to control them. I read that you can bait picnic beetles by sprinkling Sevin insecticide on a melon rind. The rind will attract the beetles and the Sevin will kill them.
If I was growing thousands of strawberries I might resort to the bait technique to control picnic beetles. But with 25 plants, the simplest thing to do is not let the strawberries get too ripe before picking them. Also, if the beetles have only eaten the tip of a berry, I’m more than happy to cut off the damaged part and use the rest of the fruit.
The day-neutral strawberries are exceeding my expectations. They bear much better than the old everbearing strawberries and they taste great. I can’t wait to report back on the September crop!
At the end of March I planted day-neutral strawberries in a raised bed. These are the strawberries that provide three harvests during a growing season. After about three months of growth, the plants are doing well. They have the brightest green leaves and also the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on strawberry plants.
Strawberry Stolons or Runners
For the last month I’ve been removing runners from the plants. All strawberry plants produce runners which are technically termed stolons. A stolon is a stem of a plant that grows along the surface of the ground and produces roots and plants at the nodes along the stem. This is a way that plants clone themselves, producing new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.
June bearing strawberries are often planted far apart and the runners are allowed to form new plants that create a bed of cloned plants. When I was researching day-neutral strawberries, I read that the plants don’t produce as many runners and it’s recommended that any that do form be removed. Because of this, the plants are spaced much closer than June bearing plants.
When I read that day-neutral plants didn’t produce a lot of runners, I was expecting to find one on every other plant. How wrong I was! I’ve found that each is producing about 5 runners. This seems like a lot but when I grew June bearing strawberries, each of those plants could easily have 10 or more runners. So I guess the articles were right – 5 is less than 10 but it still seems like a lot. I’ve followed the article’s advice and have been faithful in cutting the runners off of the plants whenever I see them.
Day Neutral Strawberry Blossom
The plants have also started to bloom. When I first planted them there were a few blooms but I cut all of them off so that the plants could get established. Now the blooms are everywhere so I guess this is the summer crop that’s forming. It’ll be interesting to see how these strawberries grow. The same articles that stated there weren’t a lot of runners also reported that the berries are smaller in the summer because of the heat. Well, the heat is coming, so we’ll see what this summer crop of berries will look like.
The fun part of growing something new is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no frame of reference when it comes to growing strawberries that can be picked in July – day-neutral strawberries are a brand new experience for me. I can’t wait to see how these summer strawberries look and taste!
Here are some pictures of the garden and some of the plants and flowers that are growing. If you double-click the pictures or right-click and open in a new tab you can see them full-sized.
Chive Blossom – look closely and you can see the abdomen of a fly that working to pollinate the flower!
Bearded German Iris
Bearded German Iris Bud
Asparagus with an Attached Aphid!
Endive or Frisee
Tribute Day-Neutral Strawberry
I recently saw something new in the Miller Nursery catalogue, a company in Canandaigua NY that specializes in fruit. In the strawberry section, they had a class of strawberries I hadn’t heard of – day-neutral.
In doing some research I learned that day-neutral strawberries produce three harvests throughout the year: spring, mid-summer and fall. The day-neutral varieties Tristar and Tribute are said to have a high quality berry that maintains its size throughout the season. The thought of picking fresh strawberries in September was something I couldn’t resist so I placed my order for 25 day-neutral strawberry plants.
The term “day-neutral” has to do with a phenomenon called photoperiodism. Photoperiodism is simply a response of a plant to day-length. Actually it’s the number of hours of darkness that really matter but scientists didn’t know this when photoperiodism was discovered. As a result, we have short or long-day plants even though they’re really long and short-night plants!
Long-day plants like black eyed susans (Rudbeckia) only blossom in the summer when the days are long. Chrysanthemums are short-day plants that blossom in the fall when the days are shorter. A day-neutral plant such as the petunia is unaffected by day-length – it blossoms in spring, summer and fall. And sometimes different varieties of the same plant have different photoperiodism reactions. There are long-day, short-day and day-neutral onions and the where you live determines the varieties that you can grow.
Standard June bearing strawberries are short-day plants. While the blossoms appear in the spring, they form within the plant in the fall when the days are short. The blossoming of day-neutral strawberries is not dependent on the length of the day. Because of this, they can produce blossoms anytime during the year which makes three harvests possible.
The day-neutral plants just arrived today. I’m looking forward to planting them this week. While any early blossoms will have to be removed to allow the plants to establish themselves, there should be a summer and fall harvest this year. Here’s to fresh strawberries in September!