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Cleaning up day neutral strawberry beds in St. Paul

Authors: Annie Klodd, Extension Educator - Fruit and Vegetable Production; Matthew Gullickson, Graduate Research Assistant - Horticulture

The first freeze marks the end of day neutral strawberry season. At this point, you can either let the plants grow a second season or remove them, rotating in a different crop next year. The dominant recommendation is to grow these as annuals. Therefore, Mary Rogers' research group said goodbye to the plants in their research trials this week at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in St. Paul.

The organic student research farm is small and relies on hand-labor to get things done, just like a small CSA or market farm.

With an average of 7 people helping consistently, it took 4 hours and 30 minutes to clean out the plot (270 minutes * 7 people = 1,890 minutes or 31.5 labor hours). The planting consisted of twenty-five 100 ft rows and 2900 strawberry plants total. 

The 1/3 acre of organic day neutral strawberries were planted on alternating rows of plastic and paper mulch, as part of a trial comparing the effectiveness of various mulches. The research team is testing whether paper mulch can be a viable, more sustainable alternative to plastic mulch in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Step 1: Removing the plants

In order to compost the plants, the crew pulled them out and collected them in a pile before removing the plastic and drip tape.

The two main reasons to remove the plants are that it is required on organic land since the plants were from a non-organic source, and to make it easier to pull the plastic and drip line out. Check with your organic certifier about whether you are required to remove your plants.

Photo: Collecting plants into buckets and walking them to the compost pile - the solution when no trailer is available.

Plants were thrown onto a pile for composting

Step 2: Free the plastic edges from the soil

It was important to the crew not to leave any shards of plastic behind. The aisles between the rows were covered with living grass, and the buried edges of the plastic were solidly in place under semi-compacted soil. Therefore, most of the rows required the help of a shovel to remove the plastic. The paper mulch had disintegrated several weeks ago, so this step could be skipped on those rows.

Photo: The crew used a shovel to dislodge the plastic edges from the soil without ripping it. On large commercial farms, a soil lifter and plastic retriever would be used for this. Our method takes time, making it only feasible for small farms. But it reduces soil disturbance and allows the grass aisles to remain over the winter if desired.

Step 3: Roll up plastic and remove it from the field

Photo: The white-on-black plastic was rolled up and disposed of, making sure that no pieces were left behind in the soil.

Step 4: Disconnect irrigation

The crew disconnected the irrigation tubing and tape from the main irrigation link, along with the fertigation tank. Since the tape cannot be used again, it was pulled into a pile for disposal.

Photo: Matthew Gullickson disconnects the fertigation system from the irrigation line.

Photo: Mary Rogers piles up the drip tape

This research is funded by two grant programs: 

USDA NIFA Organic Transitions (ORG) Program

SARE Research and Education Grant Program, "Advancing Spotted-Wing Drosophila Sustainable Management Techniques for Strawberries in Minnesota," Project # LNC21-457

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