Package of Johnny's Selected Seeds
Package of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Protect your investment

By Lynn Byczynski

Protected cropping can be as beneficial for small fruit production as it is for vegetables. Yields of some berries may be two to three times greater in protected cultivation than outside in the field. Build customer loyalty by having fresh fruit first in the spring, long into fall, and by growing the highest quality berries.

Strawberry plants, which are damaged by temperatures below 12F/-11C, require winter mulch. Although hay and straw are the traditional mulching materials, many strawberry growers use row covers because they require less labor to install and remove. Heavier row covers, weighing 1.25 oz./sq.yd. or more, are recommended.

Fall-bearing raspberries and blackberries that normally stop producing at the first frost will continue fruiting for months longer in an unheated hoophouse. They will fruit again earlier in spring than those in the field, commanding a much higher sales price.

Strawberry transplants from runners produced over the summer can be planted in an unheated hoophouse in September. They will produce fruit in the fall, continuing until December, and then fruit again in early spring.

Strawberry plasticulture is supplanting the traditional matted row system on many farms. Plant on black plastic mulch from mid-July to September and cover with row cover in fall. Fruits are harvested the following spring.

Protect fruits from marauding birds with Johnny's bird netting which won't damage fruit or bend branches.

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Getting started with fruit

By Lynn Byczynski

For many market growers, fruits are the final frontier of horticultural expertise. Growing fruit is an interesting challenge for a vegetable grower because fruits require different systems for planting, cultivating, harvesting and post-harvest handling. But there are many reasons to take up the challenge.

  • The primary reason is that people love fruit. Farmers market customers flock to vendors with berries and grapes for sale. CSA members develop stronger ties to farms that can supply a wide range of fresh produce. Chefs who tout their connections to local farmers are delighted to be able to list local fruit on their dessert menus. At home, even the pickiest eaters are usually happy to snack on berries and grapes.
  • Consumption of berries and grapes is rapidly increasing worldwide, thanks to recent discoveries about the health benefits of these fruits. The pigments that give berries and red or purple grapes their deep colors contain phytochemicals that help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related mental decline. People feel good about eating grapes and berries!
  • From the farmer's and gardener's perspective, berries and grapes are easier to grow than ever before. New varieties, production practices, and products are increasing the options for growers in every region. Berries are popular crops for the hoophouse, for example, because protection from wind and rain produces extraordinary yields of high-quality fruits. Plastic and paper mulches reduce the need for year-round weeding of these perennial plants. And because Johnny's offers plants in small quantities, growers can trial numerous commercial varieties without spending a lot of money.
  • Although most berry and grape plants won't produce fruit for 1 to 3 years after planting, the wait is worthwhile. Commercial growers can charge a premium for fresh, ripe fruits. And home gardeners can save money by growing their own.
  • What do you need to get started with fruits? First, if you aren't sure about the suitability of your climate for small fruits, contact your state Extension service for recommendations. Some regions of the country may not have enough cold (chilling hours) for certain varieties, while others may be too cold for the plants or too hot for the fruits. Good soil preparation is essential for successful fruit production. So is an irrigation system. Most small fruits don't compete well with weeds, so a mulch of hay, straw, or wood chips is beneficial. Grapes need a strong trellis, which should be erected when the vines are planted. A living mulch in the paths between rows will help reduce weed pressure and improve soil fertility. You’ll find products and information about living mulches in the cover crops section on the web and in the catalog.

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Trellising grapes

By Lynn Byczynski

Growing grapes may appear complicated to the beginner, and with good reason. Although grapes will grow anywhere, there are many kinds of training and trellising systems, and choosing the right one requires some study before planting.

Training and trellising go hand-in-hand because the kind of structure you build to hold your grape vines will affect how you prune them. The structure, in turn, depends somewhat on the type of grapes you grow because some are more vigorous and need stronger supports.

In general, a grape trellis needs to be able to support the weight of the crop and withstand high winds. It also should be designed to last 20 years, as that's how long you can expect your vines to produce.

Home gardeners planting just a few vines can use a fence that fits into the landscape or, better still, an arbor that provides shade in summer as well as support for the grape vines. To get good fruit production from an arbor planting, pruning becomes the key. Texas Extension has a nicely illustrated manual on arbor training.

Commercial growers with larger aspirations need to set up a trellis in the field. The main ingredients for a vineyard trellis are strong end posts with braces, earth anchors, or deadmen; posts along the length of the trellis to support the wires; and high-tensile galvanized steel wire to support the vines.

The most common type of trellis is the single curtain trellis with either one or two wires and posts every 16 to 24 feet apart, depending on the training system. With this type of trellis, various training styles are possible. Another popular type of trellis, especially in northern areas, is the double curtain, which allows the vines to spread horizontally across two wires.

The recommended trellis and training system varies by climate. Northern growers with shorter growing seasons usually choose training systems that expose more leaf surface to the sun, but those can be inappropriate to warm climates. To learn more about the best training and trellising system for your location, check the list below of state viticulture guides and choose the state nearest your own. Or, contact your state Extension service for recommendations.

California: Viticulture and Enology Home Page
Colorado: Grape Growers Guide
Idaho, Oregon, Washington: Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network
Iowa: Viticulture Home Page
Kansas: Commercial Grape Production
Michigan: MSU Grape Information
Missouri: Home Fruit Production: Grape Training Systems
New York: Cornell Viticulture
Ohio: Midwest Grape Production Guide
Oklahoma: Viticulture and Enology
Pennsylvania: Wine Grape Network
South Dakota: Viticulture in South Dakota
Texas: Winegrape Network
Vermont: Cold Climate Grape Production
Wisconsin: Growing Grapes

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Selecting, planting and growing strawberries

By Lynn Byczynski

Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in American gardens and market farms. They can be grown in many places, from hanging baskets to fields to hoophouses. The trick is to match the growing system to the type of strawberry you want to grow. Some varieties need plenty of space, whereas others can be grown in containers.

June-bearing varieties initiate fruit buds in fall and blossom the following spring. They are the earliest type to fruit. They produce one crop and then spend their energy sending out runners (also called daughter plants) that will fruit the following year. June-bearing strawberries are usually grown in a matted row system, in which the mother plants are planted in spring, spaced 18-24" apart in rows that are 3-4' apart. The first year, flowers are pinched off to stimulate the plants to send out runners that fill in the spaces within the row and between the rows. Plants produce fruit the second spring. A variation of this system is to prune runners to one or two per plant so that they stay in a line and don't spread out between the rows. This obviously requires a lot more labor, but may result in better yields because of reduced competition. Matted-row systems can be renovated to keep plants producing for many years. Another system is called the ribbon row system, in which strawberry crowns are planted in fall and allowed to bloom and fruit the following spring. As runners form, they are removed to increase fruit size. Once the crop is done, runners are allowed to develop and fill in the bed to a matted row system.

Day-neutral varieties produce fruit all summer. They can be grown as annuals: plant early in spring and pinch off flowers for two months to let the plants get established, and then let them fruit the rest of the summer. Day-neutral strawberries are good for container production on a deck or patio. Some varieties, including 'Seascape', will fruit on unrooted runners so they make attractive hanging baskets, with the runner plants cascading over the sides of the basket. Day-neutral strawberries can also be grown in a hill system, with 12 inches between plants.

Alpine strawberries produce small but intensely flavorful berries. They do not send out runners and are usually grown from seed. They are a good choice for strawberry pots and other containers, or as edging in the vegetable garden. They also can be grown with less than full sun, so they are a good choice for many home gardeners.

Region-specific growing information is available from most state Extension services. ATTRA has a publication on Organic Production of Strawberries.

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Hoophouse strawberries

By Lynn Byczynski

Strawberry quality, yield, and earliness is greatly improved in a hoophouse. Penn State researchers found that in their climate, hoophouse strawberries produced fruit 3 weeks earlier in spring than those grown outside, with about a 25% yield increase.

Most commercial hoophouse strawberries are grown using an annual plasticulture system that includes raised beds, drip irrigation, plastic mulch, and floating row cover. Plugs are planted in late summer on beds covered with plastic mulch, with drip tape beneath the mulch. As the weather gets cold, the young plants are covered with floating row cover to maintain the warmer soil temperatures needed for establishment. The plants grow slowly during winter in the protected environment of the hoophouse; then, as the weather warms, they flower and produce berries for several weeks. The crop is then finished for the year. Strawberry plants can either be removed to make way for other crops; or they can be left to produce a second year if berry prices or other factors justify tying up the space for a year.

Plugs are available from outside suppliers, or they can be produced on the farm in summer. To grow your own, detach unrooted daughter plants (runners) from the mother plant in July and stick them in potting mix in 72-cell flats under intermittent mist until roots protrude from the bottom of the cell. Then place on a greenhouse bench and grow until September, when they can be planted into the hoophouse. Plants that are rooted in July are likely to flower and fruit in fall in warmer climates, but that won't affect their yield the following spring.

For more information on hoophouse strawberries:

Growing Strawberries in High Tunnels in Missouri
Production of Vegetables, Strawberries, and Cut Flowers Using Plasticulture is a book about all aspects of horticultural plastics, and includes extensive information about hoophouse strawberries.

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Articles by

the author:
Lynn Byczynski was growing organic vegetables and cut flowers for market when she decided to create a magazine that would help market gardeners nationwide share experiences and information. Her first issue of Growing for Market appeared in January 1992 and it has been published continuously since then. GFM is renowned in the market gardening world for realistic articles that give growers practical, how-to information about growing and selling produce and flowers. Lynn is now partnering with Johnny's to provide similarly useful information for the website and other publications.

Lynn, her husband Dan Nagengast, and their two children have grown vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through a CSA, at farmers markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas.

Lynn is also the author of several books about market farming:
The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers; The Hoophouse Handbook; Market Farming Success
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