November 24, 2017

Preparation for spring planting of day-neutral strawberries in a low tunnel system

Materials needed:

  • Bed shaper
  • Mulch machine
  • 4 foot wide, 1 mil white on black plastic mulch
  • Drip tape irrigation
  • Dormant day-neutral strawberry plants

The first step in creating a low tunnel system for day-neutral strawberries is site selection.  Choose a spot that is mainly flat and has adequate sun exposure.  The low tunnel production system you are about to construct will serve as rain and light protection, as well as a mini-greenhouse in cooler months.

Creating Beds

Begin by creating a raised bed using a bed shaper.  In order for the bed shaper to work, soils have to be cultivated to a very fine tilth as soon as spring conditions are right for soils to be worked.  For our project, we created a raised bed of 6 inches high and 2 feet wide.  The amount of space you need to till depends on how many strawberry plants you intend to grow.  In order to create an adequate bed, use a moderate tractor speed to build a uniform bed to where the soil begins to fall back into the bed area.

Bed shaper

Use a bed shaper to create a raised bed

Laying Plastic and Drip Tape

Once the bed is created, a 4 foot wide 1 mil white on black plastic mulch is placed on top of the raised bed using a mounted mulch machine.  The whole area of the bed should be covered.  Since the bed is 2 feet wide, and the plastic is 4 feet wide, you will have an extra foot of plastic on each side of the bed. 

Mulch machine

As the machine is pulled over the raised bed, it will turn the soil over to cover the extra plastic on either side of the bed

The dry wheel puncher (the two large steel wheels that you see at the rear of the mulch machine) makes small holes in the plastic to act as a guide for proper plant spacing. 

While you are installing the plastic, the drip tape layer (the two wheels mounted on the back of the tractor, as seen below; in this case, they are green and yellow) automatically guides the drip tape underneath the white on black plastic near the center of the bed.  Our experience has shown that if the tape is installed at the edge of the narrow bed, the drip tape will fall off the raised bed.

Drip tape irrigation

Installation of the drip tape irrigation

Planting

The next step is planting of the dormant strawberry transplants.  The row spacing we used in this project was 14 inches between rows, and 12 inches between plants in a staggered row.  We used a 1 inch x 12 inch wooden plant stake to transplant.  We placed the blunt end of the wood plant stake at the tip of the roots and inserted the transplant into the ground at proper plant depth (see below for a diagram of proper plant depth).  Planting at the proper depth is extremely important to the success of the plant.  Dormant strawberry plants must be planted by hand; to date, there is no machine that can plant dormant strawberry plants into white on black plastic. When planting, be careful not to tear or rip the plastic.

Wooden stake

The use of a wooden stake will help to guide your proper plant depth

 

Planting depth is very important for strawberries.  In the image below, the center plant is set correctly, with the soil just covering the tops of the roots.  The plant on the left is set too shallow; the plant on the right is too deep.  

 

Next Steps

Once the strawberry plants are in the ground, you can begin working on construction of your low tunnel system.