This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol3", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
The Strawberry (Fragaria) is a very important market-garden crop in England, where about 21,000 ac. are devoted to its culture. The most important centres appear to be Kent, 6733 ac; Hampshire, 2406 ac; Cambridge, 2336 ac; Norfolk, 1798 ac; Worcester, 1102 ac; Essex, 567 ac; Cornwall, 542 ac; Lincoln, 484 ac; Middlesex, 432 ac; Hereford, 421 ac; Cheshire, 371 ac; and Yorkshire, 300 ac.
In Scotland about 3000 ac. are down to Strawberries, 1234 ac. being in Lanarkshire, 500 ac. in Perthshire, and 218 ac. in Aberdeenshire. Only about 1000 ac. are given for Strawberries in Ireland, the great bulk being grown in the counties of Armagh and Dublin. Wales grows a little over 500 ac, of which Denbighshire absorbs about 480 ac.
It would be easy to deduce from these figures, and indeed from those given for other crops, that England, being the centre of government in the British Islands, naturally attracts the lion's share of the fruit trade as well as the population. One is a natural corollary of the other, and it is evident that if the population were better distributed over the kingdom trade would develop to support it.
Strawberries like a good and fairly heavy loam that has been deeply cultivated and well manured. The deeper the cultivation in advance of planting the better, as the soil is thus rendered warmer and earlier, and there is but little trouble afterwards with weeds. In many places Strawberries are looked upon as a catch crop between young fruit trees, until the latter are large enough to require all the space to themselves, and one, two, or three rows are planted between, according to circumstances. When grown in large breadths, from 11,000 to 16,000 runners are planted to an acre, the average cost for young plants being about 10s. per 1000, although they are often advertised at half this price. At 2 ft. apart every way an acre will hold 11,000 plants, and 20,000 at 2 ft. by 1 ft.. The latter number, however, is too great, except perhaps in the case cf varieties like "Stirling Castle" and the "Old Scarlet", that are grown chiefly for jam. Amongst the best dessert kinds are " Bedford Champion ", a large, highly coloured mid-season variety; "Royal Sovereign", for early work; "Sir Joseph Paxton", mid-season; "Noble", early; and " Givon's Late Prolific ", a strong-growing dark-crimson late variety. Older varieties still grown in places are "Keen's Seedling", raised at Isleworth in 1823; " President"; and " Sir Charles Napier". When well grown, a single plant will carry as many as 100 fruits, about 40 of which will weigh 1 lb., thus giving about 2| lb. per plant. Reckoning 11,000 plants to the acre, this gives over 12 tons of fruit to the acre. It may be taken for granted, however, that half this quantity (6 tons) is rarely obtained, and 3 tons would be considered a good average open-air crop, and many of the fruits would be far from first grade.
Many modern growers send the fruit to market in chip baskets holding from 4 to 6 lb., covering them over with stout paper on which their name and address (or that of their commission agent) is printed. A 4-lb. basket measures about 11 in. long, 6 in. wide across the top, and about 3 1/2 in. deep, and weighs about 4 oz., the cost being from 80s. to 90s. per 1000. Baskets holding larger quantities are also used, but only when the prices have tumbled down. For early supplies small chip punnets, or baskets holding 1 lb., are used, and contain only selected " berries " that fetch good prices, and thus raise the average for the entire crop.
One of the most expensive items in connection with Strawberry cultivation is "strawing" between the plants. Some growers use long littery stable manure at the rate of 30 to 40 tons to the acre. It is put on the ground early in spring, so that it may be washed clean by the rains by the time the fruit is to rest upon it. In this way two birds are killed with one stone - the ground is well manured and the fruits are kept clean from mud splashes. Others prefer to use clean oat or barley straw at the rate of 15 to 30 cwt. per acre, and this will cost from £2 to £3. Of course a certain amount of this must be credited as manure, perhaps the greater portion.
As to manuring, there is nothing to beat a good dressing of stable manure. From 12 to 15 tons would be a fair quantity for retentive soil, while twice as much would be necessary for lighter land. If chemical manures are used at all they should be used sparingly, and one of the best for Strawberries is basic slag applied at the rate of 5 or 6 cwt. per acre about the middle of January. The use of nitrate of soda is apt to make the fruits too watery and thus less fit for transport, besides which it would be quite unnecessary if stable manure had been dug in previously.
The ash analysis of the Strawberry given in Vol. I, p. 109, will serve to guide the grower as to what foods are taken out of the soil. The ash represents only 334 per cent of the entire weight of the plant, thus leaving 96.66 per cent to water and carbonic acid gas from the atmosphere (see Vol. I, pp. 44, 108). The fruit contains 90 per cent of water and the plant 623 per cent. The following analysis of the Strawberry by M. J. Isidore Pierre, taken from Success with Small Fruits, by E. P. Roe, may be of interest: -