They're sweet, they're soft, and they fruit all summer

Jim McCausland

Any sun-sweetened strawberry plucked fresh from the plant is a treat. But when that strawberry is one of the best new varieties around and comes from organically grown seedlings, it's even better. 'Sarian', a new Dutch variety, is the one to try this year.

Originally bred for the commercial market, 'Sarian' berries are packed with sweetness and flavor. They're soft, not leathery skinned, so they won't withstand shipping. But for home gardens, they're among the best everbearing hybrids (the kinds that fruit all summer). Expect a small crop the first year, then a much larger yield in the years after that.

Plants grow well in raised beds and containers. Either way, they need fertile soil that includes plenty of organic matter. You can prepare a raised bed by digging in a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic matter plus a sprinkling of complete fertilizer before you plant. For container planting, fill each pot with high-quality potting mix supplemented with a handful of controlled-release fertilizer.

Strawberries like full sun and enough water that the soil never dries out completely. Give plants a little extra water as berries are forming, then cut back when fruit is ripe.

Planting and care

Organically grown 'Sarian' seedlings are available from the Natural Gardening Company ($2.95 per plant; 707/766-9303). For seeds, try Renee's Garden ($2.69 per packet).

Planting. Choose a sunny site with rich, well-drained soil. Set plants 12 to 14 inches apart on mounds that are 5 to 6 inches high and at least a foot wide; space the mounds a foot apart in all directions. Position the base of each plant's crown (or center) at soil level, and make sure to cover all roots. Firm the soil around plants.

Mulch. Cover strawberry beds with an inch-thick layer of straw to reduce evaporation and keep fruit off wet soil, which can result in rot.

Water. Irrigate regularly―at least 1 inch per week, and more during dry weather and as berries are forming. Soaker hoses work well for strawberries.

Fertilizer. Give everbearing plants like 'Sarian' consistent light feedings.

Pests. If snails and slugs are a problem where you live, plant in a hanging basket. To keep birds out of ripening fruit, cover beds with an improvised tent of bird netting, sold at nurseries and garden centers.

Harvesting. Keep ripe fruit picked. This encourages continued production, and keeps fruit from rotting.

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