Strawberries: More than a summer fruit?
June and July may be ripe for strawberry picking in the Northeast, but one UNH graduate student is focused on growing the popular fruit beyond the summer months.
Kaitlyn Orde, a student in the masters of science program in Agriculture Sciences, is focused on the extension of strawberry production season. Last fall at the The Woodman Horticultural Research Farm, which is a facility of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, her team harvested strawberries for 19 consecutive weeks.
"The 'Strawberry Blog' will provide a step-by-step chronicle of day-neutral strawberry installation and production under low-tunnels here at the University of New Hampshire for those interested in using day-neutral cultivars or low-tunnel season-extension systems. (We promise to tell you all our mistakes!)"
“It was especially neat to still be harvesting the week of Thanksgiving,” Orde said.
She explained that the “experiments are designed to directly support strawberry growers in the region.”
There are two components to the research: The first is evaluating “day-neutral” plants, which are grown in other areas of the United States and in Europe and can produce fruit continuously for 4-6 months. These are unlike the typical Northeast strawberry plants, which typically produce fruit for 4-6 weeks in June.
“While they certainly have their place in regional production, they do not allow growers to meet the strong consumer demand for fresh strawberries outside this early summer time frame,” Orde said. “Day-neutral strawberry varieties are a good solution for extending regional production outside the June-bearing season, and allow farmers to meet demand for fresh berries with those that were locally/regionally produced.”
The second part is also working with low-tunnels, which are small plastic coverings that protect plants from the elements. She found that the tunnels on black plastic mulch reduced runners – which are shoots or branches coming from the root – for the Albion strawberry variety.
“Runner removal is a labor intensive and time-consuming task for producers, and low tunnels may be one tool for managing runner growth,” Orde said. “However, this observation is based only on one year of field trials, so we will have to see if the same phenomenon occurs in 2017.”
She added that preliminary studies in other parts of the country show that the tunnels also help produce larger strawberries (and more fruit) and help prevent rot.
Last year, Orde found that 83 percent of fruit was marketable from the plants that were tunnel-protected, compared to the 71 percent of marketable fruit harvested from plants that were not.
This is the second year of the experiment at the Woodman Horticultural Research Farm. The team planted strawberries in April and will collect data on factors such as fruit yield, sugar content, skin color, disease incidence, plant vigor, and runner production through November.—Author Kristen Melamed
This research is supported by the USDA NIFA Specialty Crops Research Initiative Award Number 2014-51181-22380, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project Accession 1006827.