Strawberries Uncovered

MN Apple Orchard Blog

I finished uncovering strawberries this week (May 9). Pulling back the rye straw is always a little bit of an adventure.  Will I see green plants just starting to grow under their straw cover?  You never know.  Like the spring we have been having, this chore is happening later than normal.  Our recent warm spell got the plants growing so they needed to be uncovered but recurring rain and snow made our soils slow to dry presenting a new and interesting challenge.  The soft fields would simply not support a tractor so uncovering with the ecoweeder or hay rake was not an option.  Only one thing to do—the old fashioned way—pull the straw off the plants with a pitchfork.  Why the rush to uncover now?  If you leave the plants covered after the soil temperature gets above 40 degrees the plants start to grow.  Lacking sunlight they use up reserves in the plant crowns to power their growth which can reduce production.
While performing this mundane but crucial task my mind wanders.  I ran the numbers in my head and determined that if I were to lay all my strawberry rows end to end, they would reach about 6.5 to 7 miles or from our farm into Lindstrom.  The project took the daylight hours and stretched into nighttime which raises the question:  how did this area get developed for agriculture before the invention of the battery powered headlamp?
Why do we cover our strawberry plants going into winter anyway?  If snowfall were totally reliable we could skip this step.  But open winters with no snow cover and subzero temperatures can be fatal for strawberry plants.  This winter we probably could have gotten by without applying straw.  But the straw sure makes for nice clean berries and good cushioning for the knees when picking.
I did see green plants under the straw. They wintered over very well this year.  Fresh leaves are pushing out, gathering sunlight to power the new crop.  As I worked through the last rows and my headlamp began to dim I was serenaded by coyotes in the fields across the fence line.  Their enthusiastic calling made me think that I am not the only one out here who enjoys watching the landscape come alive after a little bit too long winter.