'Tis the season for strawberries

Bradford Sherman and Brad Bergefurd
CFAES/South Centers

Having fresh Ohio strawberries to enjoy over the holiday season? It may not take a Christmas miracle to make that a reality, say researchers at The Ohio State University.

Making fresh, Ohio-grown strawberries available during higher market price periods, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, is one of the objectives of a new Extension research trial being conducted by Dr. Chieri Kubota and Mark Kroggel from The Ohio State University Horticulture & Crop Science Department and Brad Bergefurd from the Department of Extension.

“Strawberries shipped in for the holiday season in Ohio are high-priced, have poor taste, and are limited in quantity,” said Bergefurd. “This opens up a great marketing opportunity for Ohio farms to produce off-season strawberries.”

“Picking your own strawberries at Christmas IS possible in Ohio,” he concluded. 

This new research coalesces more than 30 years of combined strawberry research expertise of the three principal investigators in traditional field and high-tunnel strawberry production and modern greenhouse soilless off-season strawberry production. 

Conducted at both the Columbus and Piketon OSU campuses, thanks to the support from the Ohio Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, the research thus far has yielded encouraging results.

“The greenhouse production has been going very well.  We had our first harvest during the week of Thanksgiving and the month of December was a big production month,” said Dr. Kubota. “We could have planted 2-3 weeks earlier so that the big harvest would have occurred before Thanksgiving, but that is something to improve on next year.”

Plants grown in the Columbus campus greenhouse seemed to benefit greatly from having supplemental heating and light. At Piketon, on the other hand, researchers wanted to observe the results of growing strawberries outdoors using a high tunnel system without climate control.

“We never harvested a red strawberry – we had some nice fruits set, but they never ripened for us,” explained Piketon campus Research Associate Thom Harker. However, Harker believes that an adjustment in planting time could have resulted in high tunnel-produced, ripened strawberries, at least during the month of November.
“If we had planted a month earlier, in August instead of September, I think we would have had success,” he said.

This kind of soilless substrate-based production system trialed in these experiments has been widely adopted by growers in countries such as Australia, Belgium, Japan, Korea, and the Netherlands and other Northern European countries. The tabletop production system was recently introduced in strawberry production in California and Ontario, Canada in order to mitigate issues of soil-borne disease, drought, and labor shortages. 

The tabletop production systems allow workers to stand upright while conducting crop maintenance and harvesting. 
Growing gutters were placed on the tabletop system within a 1,536 sq. ft. research high tunnel located on the Piketon campus of the South Centers in July and August. Clean substrate (growing media), which eliminates the need for soil fumigants, was used to allow for more highly managed irrigation and nutrient delivery, as well as discharge for improved yield and quality. 

Bare-root Chandler and Camarosa cultivars were obtained in June and grown as plugs with substrate. Plugs were conditioned for flower bud initiation in August and planted on September 15.  Following the fall harvest, plants have now been moved down to the ground with row covers applied to provide additional protection for overwintering. Spring harvesting is expected to begin in April and end in June.

A virtual field day is being planned in late winter early spring to highlight this new strawberry production system. For more information contact project managers Dr. Chieri Kubota Kubota.10@osu.edu 614-292-3175 or Brad Bergefurd Bergefurd.1@osu.edu 740-289-2071.