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How to grow strawberries in Ontario

Fresh strawberries packed into a wooden display box
Strawberry Tray

The name "strawberry" is believed to have originated from Old English and Middle English. The word "strawberry" is a combination of two Old English words: "streaw" (meaning "straw") and "berige" (meaning "berry"). This combination refers to the small, straw-like runners that grow from the base of the plant and appear to be scattered around the fruit, resembling pieces of straw. The name might also have been influenced by the practice of mulching strawberries with straw, which helps to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and protect the fruit. Over time, the name "strawberry" became the commonly used term for this fruit, and it has been used for centuries to refer to the delicious red berries we know today.

Growing strawberries in Ontario can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Strawberries are not native to Ontario or North America. The cultivated strawberries commonly grown in Ontario and other parts of the world are derived from European strawberry species. However, wild strawberries, known as Fragaria virginiana, are native to Ontario and can be found growing in forests, meadows, and open areas. Wild strawberries are smaller in size compared to cultivated varieties and have a unique flavour. They are also a favourite among foragers and gardeners who prefer to grow native plants.

Strawberries are not only delicious but also packed with various essential nutrients. Here are some of the nutritional benefits of strawberries:

  • Vitamins and Minerals: Strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C, which is important for immune function, collagen production, and antioxidant protection. They also contain significant amounts of manganese, folate, potassium, and vitamins B6 and K.

  • Fiber: Strawberries are a good source of dietary fiber, which aids in digestion, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and supports heart health.

  • Antioxidants: Strawberries are loaded with antioxidants such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and flavonoids. These compounds help protect the body against oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, and may have anti-cancer properties.

  • Low in Calories: Strawberries are relatively low in calories, making them a healthy choice for those watching their calorie intake. One cup of strawberries contains about 50-60 calories.

  • Hydration: Strawberries have high water content, which contributes to hydration and helps maintain healthy skin.

  • Blood Pressure and Heart Health: The potassium content in strawberries, along with their fiber and antioxidant content, may contribute to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and supporting heart health.

  • Blood Sugar Regulation: Despite their sweetness, strawberries have a relatively low glycemic index, which means they have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. This makes them suitable for individuals managing diabetes or watching their blood sugar levels.

a green plastic strawberry container between strawberry plants
Strawberry Container

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you grow your own strawberries:

  1. Choose the Right Variety: Select strawberry varieties that are well-suited for Ontario's climate and growing conditions. Some popular options for Ontario include June-bearing varieties like 'Kent,' 'Sparkle,' and 'Earliglow,' as well as ever-bearing varieties like 'Seascape' and 'Tristar.' Consider factors such as flavour, yield, disease resistance, and whether you prefer a single large harvest or smaller harvests throughout the season.

  2. Prepare the Soil: Strawberries thrive in well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Prepare the soil in early spring or late fall by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris. Incorporate organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve soil fertility and drainage. Consider performing a soil test to determine if any specific nutrients need to be added.

  3. Planting: In Ontario, strawberries are typically planted in early spring or early fall. Space the plants about 12-18 inches apart in rows that are 2-3 feet apart. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots of the strawberry plant, ensuring the crown is level with the soil surface. Place the plant in the hole, spread the roots, and backfill with soil. Water the newly planted strawberry plants thoroughly.

  4. Mulching: Apply a layer of straw or pine needles around the strawberry plants to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and protect the fruit from rotting. Make sure the mulch is about 2-3 inches deep, leaving a small space around the crown of the plants.

  5. Watering and Care: Strawberries need regular watering, especially during dry periods. Aim to provide about 1 inch of water per week, either through rainfall or irrigation. Water at the base of the plants, avoiding overhead watering to reduce the risk of disease. Monitor the soil moisture and adjust watering as needed.

  6. Fertilizing: Fertilize your strawberry plants to promote healthy growth and fruit production. Apply a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or 14-14-14, in early spring and again after harvest. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package for application rates.

  7. Pest and Disease Management: Keep an eye out for common pests like slugs, snails, and strawberry root weevils. Handpick or use organic pest control methods to manage them. Diseases like powdery mildew, grey mold, and verticillium wilt can also affect strawberries. Plant disease-resistant varieties, practice crop rotation, and ensure good air circulation around the plants to minimize disease risks.

  8. Harvesting: June-bearing varieties typically produce a single large crop in late spring or early summer, while ever-bearing varieties produce smaller harvests throughout the season. Harvest strawberries when they are fully ripe, bright red, and slightly soft. Gently pick the berries to avoid damaging the plants.

By following these steps and providing proper care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh, homegrown strawberries in Ontario.

Now that we've grow our own strawberries, which types are best for jams and pies?

When it comes to making jam, different strawberry varieties can offer varying flavours, textures, and characteristics. While personal preferences may vary, here are a few strawberry varieties that are often favoured for making jam:

a glass container with strawberry jam and a wooden spoon scooping up jam
Strawberry Jam
  • Honeoye: Honeoye strawberries are known for their excellent flavour and are often used for making jams and preserves. They have a sweet and slightly tart taste, and their firm texture holds up well during the cooking process.

  • Jewel: Jewel strawberries are popular for their exceptional sweetness and rich flavour, making them a great choice for jam-making. They have a vibrant red colour and a soft texture that lends itself well to creating smooth and spreadable jam.

  • Seascape: Seascape strawberries are an ever-bearing variety that produces fruit throughout the growing season. They have a well-balanced sweet flavour, a firm texture, and are often favoured for making jams with a bright and fresh taste.

  • Tristar: Tristar strawberries are another ever-bearing variety that offers a rich and sweet flavour. They are particularly popular for their intense strawberry aroma and their ability to create flavourful and fragrant jams.

  • Earliglow: Earliglow strawberries are a June-bearing variety that is highly regarded for its exceptional flavour and sweetness. They have a juicy texture and a robust strawberry taste, making them an excellent choice for making flavourful jam.

Remember, the best strawberry for jam-making ultimately depends on personal preference. You might consider trying different varieties to find the one that suits your taste and produces the desired flavour and consistency in your homemade jam.

Want to try your hand at baked goods?

A strawberry tart with custard, mint and icing sugar
Strawberry Tart

When it comes to using strawberries in baked goods, you'll want to choose varieties that hold their shape and flavour well during the baking process. Here are some strawberry varieties that are often recommended for baked goods:

  • Jewel: Jewel strawberries are known for their firm texture, which makes them an excellent choice for baking. They hold up well and retain their shape and flavour, even when exposed to high temperatures in the oven.

  • Albion: Albion strawberries are popular for their large size and firm texture, which makes them ideal for baking. They have a sweet flavour and their sturdy structure allows them to maintain their shape and texture in pies, tarts, and other baked goods.

  • Fort Laramie: Fort Laramie strawberries are a June-bearing variety that is well-suited for baking. They have a firm and juicy texture and hold up well when cooked. Their sweet and tangy flavour adds a delightful taste to various baked treats.

  • Hood: Hood strawberries are known for their intense flavour and aroma. They have a firm texture that withstands baking, making them a good choice for pies, cobblers, and other baked desserts.

  • Sparkle: Sparkle strawberries are a June-bearing variety that is often used for baking. They have a slightly tart flavour and hold their shape well during cooking, making them suitable for pies, tarts, and other baked goods.

When using strawberries in baked goods, it's important to remember that they release moisture when heated. To prevent excessive moisture, consider using slightly underripe strawberries or blotting them with a paper towel before incorporating them into your recipes. This can help maintain the texture and prevent the baked goods from becoming too soggy.

Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to growing your own strawberries? Share it with us in the comments or on our social media. We'd love to hear from you!

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