Strawberries: Them’s the berries!

Ever wondered how strawberries got their name? It seems nobody knows for sure, but there are a few theories out there. One theory states that farmers took them to market on beds of straw, hence the name strawberry. Another theory is that the plant’s spreading runners appear to be “strewn” around the plant, and the earlier name strewberry has evolved into strawberry.

However they got their name, strawberries are a delicious taste of summer and are in season right now!

We associate strawberries with June and July and that is certainly when the biggest berries are at their peak. However, in recent years, more growers have been growing “day-neutral” berries that continue to flower and fruit as long as temperatures are high enough, often well into September in warm years. The best place to find them is at your local farm market.

Some people like the smaller berries and consider them sweeter. You will have to try both and decide for yourself!

The strawberry is a small plant of the Rosaceae (Rose) family. Strawberries are not actually berries, or even fruit, but are instead the enlarged ends of the plant’s stamen. Botanically speaking, the small black spots are the fruit.

Strawberry picking is a great family activity. Not only does it get you outside and allow you to eat fresh, local produce, but you’re also helping out the farmer by picking the strawberries yourself.

Although strawberries are a high value crop, production is risky and labour intensive. Strawberries are harvested by hand and are extremely perishable, meaning that a good labour supply and strong customer base are essential.

Strawberry plants are one of the least hardy herbaceous perennials. They require the best agricultural soils, excellent drainage and high organic matter for optimum production. For these reasons, most strawberry growers have small acreages of strawberries in addition to other crops.

Strawberries are typically grown in a matted row system and harvested for 2-4 years after planting. The strawberry plant has seeds on the outside skin, but they do not normally reproduce by seeds.

When the fruit is developing, the plant sends out slender growths called runners, which grow on the ground and send roots into the soil. These roots produce new plants that will bear their own fruit. Farmers often use these plants to start the next strawberry plantation.

The Peel-Halton Region and Niagara Region are the main strawberry producing regions along the Escarpment, although you can find strawberry farms close to most urban areas. Approximately 1,600 ha (4,000 acres) of strawberries are harvested each year in Ontario – that’s around 8,000 tons of strawberries!

You can find a strawberry farm in your area online at the Ontario Berry Growers Association.

Or if you really love strawberries, check out one of Ontario’s strawberry festivals or strawberry socials. Upcoming festivals include the Canada Day Strawberry Social at the Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington.

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