June is strawberry month

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

June is the month when strawberries are usually abundant in this area. The summer bearing strawberries are even frequently called June berries, as opposed to the ever bearing and the day neutral berries (which bear in June and then again later). Most growers who raise strawberries to sell grow the June berries, which will generally bear heavily over about a two week period, starting perhaps around June 10. However, as we all know, we had an exceptionally dry fall, followed by a very mild winter with little precipitation. Then March brought some unusually high temperatures, which caused perennial plants to leaf out and even bloom before they should have. Some of these early blooming plants were then caught by the inevitable late freeze that we know we will get here in April and even possibly into the first half of May. This year that late freeze caught the apple trees and early strawberries in bloom and caused crop damage to both those fruits. This, along with the extremely dry conditions last fall when the strawberry plants were making preparations for the spring crop, caused the plants to go into winter in a weakened condition.

Verlys Huntley

The above may help explain the shortage of strawberries in this whole general area, even though the media was reporting a wonderful strawberry crop. The University of Minnesota now reports that 2012 brought the poorest strawberry crop since 2002, when a tenacious heat spell turned strawberries to mush.

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So hopefully you will now understand that our Strawberry Festival coming up on Broadway this Saturday may not have fresh strawberries for sale this year. We did, however come up with enough strawberries so we will be selling strawberry sundaes made with local strawberries, as well as raspberry sundaes, made from fresh local raspberries, so don’t miss out on those!

And there will be plenty of strawberry jam for sale. There will also be raspberries, radishes, green onions, spinach, lettuce, peas, kohlrabi, green beans, sweet onions, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, beets, broccoli, various herbs and possibly some cucumbers, carrots, zucchini and more. You always find fresh eggs, meats, some really tasty home baked goodies, local raw honey, all kinds of jams, jellies, salsa, pickles and other canned products; as well as some really unique local hand crafted items and locally grown perennial and annual plants.

On Saturday at the Strawberry Festival our home-based businesses will also be set up to offer you their many different products. On this day only, all our vendors will set up on Broadway Avenue (which will be closed to traffic), and we will  be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to the farmers market, there will be many special events, including cooking demonstrations, kiddie train rides, wagon rides, food concessions and much more. Don’t miss this event!


Notes from the garden

The nice rainfall on June 20 (about two inches over most of the area) is being called a million dollar rain, as even the field crops were beginning to show extreme drought stress. Now gardens and fields are looking much better. The early planted field corn is shoulder height or higher, and some even looking close to tasseling. Our sweet corn planted April 2 is looking pretty good, beginning to set on ears, and we are looking forward to an earlier than normal harvest. Although apple trees undoubtedly suffered some damage from the late freeze when blooming, some trees seem to have come through that better than others. Some growers say they have very few or even no apples on their trees. We personally have some trees with a pretty good amount of apples on them, others with a smaller amount, and a few with few if any apples on them. Our  pear trees apparently suffered more damage, and although they bloomed heavily, there are only a few pears on them. Our raspberries are doing pretty well in spite of the dry conditions we have had,  but most of them are mulched with wood chips; and undoubtedly they have deeper roots than strawberries, and probably take dry conditions a little better.


Featured produce of the week: Berries

Strawberries and raspberries can be successfully grown in this area by most home gardeners. They both require full sun, but will grow in most local soil types.

Strawberries and raspberries are both best planted in the spring. Get plants from a reputable nursery to avoid getting diseased plants. Raspberries especially are subject to various fungal and viral diseases, which can be avoided by getting plants that are guaranteed to be disease free.

Both raspberries and strawberry plants generally come bare root and dormant. Strawberries can be set out in rows, with the plants about 18 to 24 inches apart.  They should be set out at a depth to cover the roots, but do not cover the crown of the plant. After they leaf out, they will eventually put out runners, which will root down and form new plants. By the following season, with the June bearing strawberries, you should have a row at least a couple feet or more wide. It is important to keep the weeds out by hoeing or pulling them, especially that first year. June strawberries will give you one large crop, while everbearing gives you a later crop also. Day neutral strawberries more or less bear a little throughout the summer. Day neutral and everybearing strawberries do not put out as many runners, and are more suitable for limited spaces, such as terraced beds or pyramids.

Raspberries belong to a plant group known as brambles. Although red raspberries are the most common, there are also black, purple and even yellow raspberries. Raspberries are usually set out in rows, but the plants can be up to two or three feet apart. They will fill in and become thicker over time.

Raspberry canes live only two summers. The green vegetative canes that come up the first year are primocanes. The second season they develop a brown bark and are known as floricanes. Red raspberries develop new plants from the base of the original plant or from buds on the roots that spread  out underground and sprout up new growth. Summer bearing raspberries will give you one crop on the floricanes starting usually in early July. Everbearing raspberries will have an early crop on last year’s canes, and then will bear again in the fall on the new primocanes that just came up this year. Raspberries need to be pruned yearly, which means you will remove dead canes, usually done in early spring.

Berries are often described as “super foods.” They are high in antioxidant levels, provide different vitamins and nutrients, and have phytochemicals that provide many unique health benefits, including possibly blocking cancer development, and promoting better cardovascular health. And best of all, they taste great!


Fabulous berry muffins

2-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

l pint strawberries (chopped) or can substitute blueberries, raspberries or peaches

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl and mix well. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour in the liquid ingredients and berries. Gently fold together ingredients just until moist. (Do not over mix.) Pour into 12 greased muffin cups, and if desired, sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.


Swedish cream

2-1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup sugar

1 envelope gelatin, softened with 1/4 cup water

1 pint sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pint fresh raspberries

Mix cream with sugar and gelatin in saucepan. Heat slowly and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Cool until slightly thickened. Whisk in sour cream and vanilla and stir well. Chill several hours. Serve topped with fresh raspberries.


Hope to see you all from 4 to 6 p.m. today in our regular lot and again on Saturday on Broadway from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.