This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The Strawberry is one of the finest and most esteemed of all the products of the vegetable kingdom.
The propagation of the Strawberry may be effected by one of three ways - viz., by seed, by runners, or by divisions of the old plant. The last - mentioned method is very seldom, if ever, resorted to, as almost all the varieties of the Strawberry produce runners so plentifully that it is unnecessary to do so, and further divisions from the old plants never make such good and useful plantations as those planted by runners. Runners are produced by the old plants sending forth a branch which, at the distance of from 1 to 2 feet, produces a bud which in a few days develops itself into a young plant. Properly speaking, the bud is produced in the runner as soon as it starts from the parent plant, but it does not become developed until it has grown to something like the distances given above. As soon as the bud begins to develop, the young plant starts to emit roots into the soil, and in the course of a few weeks has so established itself that it is quite able to support itself without the assistance of the parent plant. The runner in most cases does not stop growth when it has produced one plant, but continues to grow, producing young plants at regular distances to the number of two, three, or four, which as a rule is the most it can do during the course of a season's growth.
The first plant upon the runner is invariably the best for all practical purposes; being the oldest, and having the longest time to grow, it is better established, and makes a more robust plant before the planting season. It has been affirmed by some growers that the second plant, and all the others produced afterwards along the runner, are not nearly so productive as the first. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of this statement, as we never have thoroughly proved the matter; but, from a physiological point of view, we are of opinion that such is likely to be the case. The first plant produced, as we have already hinted, must be the strongest and healthiest, and being nearer to the parent than any of the others, is sure to consume as much of the juices passing along the runner as is necessary for its own sustenance before any is allowed to pass to the runner further along. From what we have said, it will be noticed that the aim of the cultivator is to encourage the first plant upon the runner as much as possible, as to all intents and purposes it is the best suited for the planting of a fresh plot of Strawberries. If such, therefore, be desired, the following plan may be adopted with every hope of success: as soon as the plants begin to produce runners - which, as a rule, is the end of May and on to the end of June, according to position and climate - let the best rows of the desired varieties be selected, between which may be spread an inch or two of leaf-mould, well decomposed, or good manure; this may be forked into the soil to the depth of 2 or 3 inches, and thoroughly incorporated therewith.
As soon as the young bud begins to develop itself into a plant, let it be fixed upon this prepared ground either by means of a peg or by laying a stone thereupon, so as to keep it steady until it has fixed itself into the soil. The point of the runner beyond the plant ought to be pinched, for the twofold purposes of preventing a second plant from being formed, and further to encourage the plant already formed to make a strong and healthy growth. If the old plants are in good health, they ought to produce as many runners as will give a young plant for every 4 inches square of surface between the rows. All other runners must be considered superfluous, and, as a consequence, removed. This will give ample space for the young plants to grow until such time as they are fit for placing in their permanent positions. Here we will leave the runners until such time as we have disposed of the seedlings.
It is superfluous to say that the object of growing seedlings is in order to obtain new, and if possible superior, varieties to those already in cultivation. The surest plan to accomplish this is to impregnate artificially those varieties which the cultivator considers to be the most likely to accomplish the object he has in view. For this purpose the finest and healthiest flowers should be selected and tied to a short stake, so that they may not be lost among the multiplicity of plants and flowers by which they may be surrounded. As soon as the fruit is thoroughly ripe, they must at once be separated from the pulp, either by washing in water or by being bruised upon a sheet of paper, and exposed to the influences of the sun until thoroughly dry. In either case they must be thoroughly dried, after which they may be placed in a small box and covered up with fine dry sand until spring, when they may be sown. Some cultivators sow in autumn on an open border, but sowing on a gentle hot-bed in spring we consider the most expeditious method. In March a gentle hot-bed may be formed of fermenting materials, and covered over by a few inches of nice rich soil, having a top-dressing of fine-sifted soil to the depth of half an inch.
Upon this the seed may be sown as regularly and thinly as possible, to prevent overcrowding when the young plants come up. Cover the seed with about one-eighth of an inch of the same fine-sifted material, gently watering the whole with nice tepid water, replacing the lights upon the frame, and the work is accomplished. All that is now necessary is to attend to the airing of the frame in bright sunshine, and watering the surface when the soil becomes dry. This, however, must be done with care, as if the weather is dark and dull when the young plants are coming up, there is danger of their being damped off if too much water is used. The plants should appear in the course of from three to five weeks, when they must be attended to with care. After they have formed two or three leaves, let them be gently hardened off until they are fit for planting out into nursery-beds. For this purpose a nice sheltered corner ought to be selected and well prepared, giving it a liberal amount of manure. Into this the seedlings may be planted, allowing 6 inches plant from plant.
In this they will make rapid progress, and in the course of three or four weeks will be ready for planting into their permanent positions in the "trial" or "proving ground." During this stage of their growth care must be taken to prevent the production of runners, which must at once be destroyed as soon as they are seen, as their production will prove highly injurious to the wellbeing of the youug plant. The following season these seedlings ought to produce sufficient fruit to enable the cultivator to make a selection - reserving the best for further trial, and discarding those that are apparently useless. James M'Millan.
(To be continued).