Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Blanket for the Berries

Strawberries!  Such a curious name when you think about it.  Why is the word "Straw" in the name of this berry which grows on plants so close to the ground?  I imagine the reason is that these close to the ground growing berries really benefit from mulch being applied on and around the plants.  Since straw is the most commonly used mulch then the name became such.  I can't imagine them being referred to as "Pine needle berries" or "Saw dust berries", two other materials which have been used as a mulch for these plants.  Those names just don't have the same attractive ring to them.

Mulch serves many purposes for the plants:  Insulation during the cold winter months is probably the most important!  Especially on a low snow year.  Deep cold can damage the crowns and root systems of these plants and have a big impact on production.  This is why we put the straw directly on top of the plants just before winter sets in.  Hopefully we have timed it just before a rain or snow event to settle the straw, so that the next windy day does not blow the 400 bales into the adjacent apple orchard.   With the equipment that we have here at Butternut Farm this task can take less than a day for three people to cover our 2 acres of pick your own strawberries.  I can't imagine doing all that work by hand!
    In the spring the straw mulch is raked off the plants and into the row middles (where the tractor tires and pickers travel) as soon as the field is dry enough to get the equipment through.  Again having the right equipment is very important as this task takes one person less than a day. Unfortunately I do not have a picture of that piece of equipment right now.  This spring I will try and remember to add a picture of the de-mulcher in action.  Now the straw serves its other purposes of providing a comfortable surface for pickers to kneal on during harvest and to keep the plants and fruit clean of splashing soil and disease spores which get spread around with a rain.  The straw keeps all that stuff on the soil surface below the straw where it belongs. 

Having the proper equipment for the job is important irregardless of the industry you are in!  Operating a pick your own fruit farm is no exception to this rule.  That equipment can be as simple as a pair of snow shoes which enable me to keep pruning apples during the snowy months or it can be a straw mulcher which is used only one day a year, but is pivotal in enabling this farmer to continue to grow PYO strawberries here at Butternut Farm.

Thanks for reading.

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