November 18, 2015: Luc Duytsche returned to the organic growers meeting (organized by the Simple Living Institute on the third Wednesday each month) and shared his methods for cultivating strawberries. To help illustrate his knowledge sharing, Luc filled the tables in the center of the conference room full of plants he grows at his farm called A Natural Farm & Education Center.
Located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, Luc and his wife and three children grow organically fruit trees, vegetable and other edible plants. Luc conducts classes there which are popular with parents because their children get to plant in Luc’s raised beds and are welcome to return to the farm harvest the fruit and veggies when they’re ripe.
Luc’s farm started growing strawberries a few years ago using organic practices as a u-pick operation, but due to marketplace conditions at the time shifted to a traditional produce operation.
In addition to fruits, Luc grows gingers both the yellow and Thai varieties as well as turmeric.
Luc grows mostly the Festival variety for strawberry. This variety once popular with Plant City growers has fallen out of favor to earlier ripening cultivars. Earlier ripening varieties while not as tasty grow larger and allows the larger Florida growers to bring their crop to market before the Californian crop arrives in our supermarkets.
Festival variety grows well here without much disease. It is planted in the fall through early February. Each plant yields ½ – 1 lb of fruit. The key to success according to Luc is paying close attention to the planting depth. Luc recommends you plant the crown of the starter plant even with the top of the soil, like the plants pictured below.
Luc plants in well-draining raised beds using lots of worm castings. Strawberries need to grow with constant moist and should never dry out fully.
Luc irrigates twice daily using drip tape, which delivers water just to the plant’s roots which discourages weed growth and disease caused by over-head watering. Luc brought in a portion of the drip system he uses and allowed a lucky grower to buy it at a greatly discounted price.
Mulch in the form of pine needles is used at A Natural Farm allowing the strawberries to stay clean and blemish-free. Blemishes can be caused by exposure to blight originating from soil splashing up on the fruit and leaves when it rains – the pine needles cover the soil reducing this risk.
Strawberries are blooming now so the increase fruit production, Luc plants African basil, nasturtiums and marigolds around his beds to attract the natural pollinators.
Ripen Festival strawberries keep about a week when refrigerated. They are a medium-sezed variety. It takes about six weeks from flower to ripen fruit. The peak of the production happens January-February.
For folks with limited growing spaces or those who want to dress up a pation, Luc sells hanging baskets can grow strawberries conveniently. Luc uses a handful of a slow release organic fertilizer which includes mycorrhizal fungi to promote nutrient delivery via a natural ymbiosis between the plant roots and the beneficial microbes in the soil.
To control pests, like caterpillars, Luc recommends spraying Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) a natural occurring bacteria which causes the caterpillars to stop eating. For thrips and whiteflies, neem oil is used. Luc recommended spraying early to prevent microscopic mites from damaging the leaves and fruit. Damage can happen before it is visible to the naked eye so preventive spraying is key.
Spinosad, another organically bacterium is used sparingly in the late-day for other leaf-eating insects.
If you’re looking for edible plants suitable for central Florida, check out their website anaturalfarm.com.