February 25, 2018

Low Tunnel Strawberries at Little Hill Berry Farm

One of our grower collaborator sites for our low tunnel strawberry project was at Little Hill Berry Farm in Northfield, MN.  We partnered with owners Aaron Wills and Molly McGovern Wills on the installation of two 100 foot rows of low tunnel day neutral strawberries.  They later installed an additional eight rows for their pick-your-own strawberry patch.

At the conclusion of the growing season, we asked Aaron and Molly to share with us their successes and challenges of their first growing season using this system:

Success:

  • We’ve received positive feedback from customers on the taste and size of the strawberries.  During picking, customers found it easy to see the berries.  In a typical June-bearing system, there is abundant foliage which can make finding the berries a bit more challenging.  Day neutral strawberries tend to have less foliage, making it easier to find the berries.
  • The plastic that went over the hoop structure of the low tunnels held up well in rain and wind.
  • One of the in-row mulch treatments had biodegradable black plastic mulch (Bio360), which held up well.  We did not notice any differences in yield or vigor of the plants compared to the standard white on black plastic, which was the second treatment.
  • Overall, we really like the system and plan on growing more day neutral strawberries next year.

Challenges:

  • We did experience disease and insect pressures; Portola had some leaf disease issues, and we did have spotted wing drosophila (SWD) under the tunnels.  On our farm, we had more SWD in the tunnels than in the rows without the tunnels.
  • The winter rye cover crop, which was planted in between the rows for weed suppression, grew well until the end of July.  After that, the rye died out and the weeds took over.  This didn’t affect our strawberry quality, but made for unsightly walk-ways.