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.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market, a magazine for local food producers