Strawberries are a high demand crop for both pick-your-own and local retail markets. While this crop commands premium prices, growing strawberries in southern West Virginia has been tricky due to challenges like deer and weed pressure, labor demands and planting time conflicts. With their Northeast SARE Farmer Grant, Kent and Jennifer Gilkerson of Sunset Berry Farm and Produce in Alderson, WV tested different planting dates for their potential to address these challenges.
In WV, current strawberry planting recommendations are limited to a narrow window in August. The Gilkersons compared the recommended date with three additional planting dates later in the season, spaced two weeks apart. Strawberries were planted in a field setting using plasticulture on Aug 23, Sept 5 and 20, and Oct 4. The plots were evaluated based on bloom dates, crown development, runner production, and fruit production. They found that the two early planting dates had the most favorable branch crown development and fruit production. The Oct planting date did not produce well. However, on their farm, the Sept 20 planting date produced a great crop of strawberries and required less physical labor for runner and weed removal.
As a result of the project, the Gilkersons have changed their strawberry planting dates to the first week of September. Pushing the timing back by just two weeks has allowed them to get other work completed (eg., corn and watermelon harvest) helping spread out labor demands on the farm. They also saw a healthier strawberry crop due to less weed pressure and decreased deer damage as well as reduced demand for labor to pull weeds and remove runners. They hope that the results of their study will benefit other growers in southeastern West Virginia who might be interested in starting or expanding strawberry operations.