Different strawberry growing methods in the Netherlands and the US
The first modern production of strawberries in growing media started in the Netherlands in the early 1980s. This mainly resulted from a change in the legislation, prohibiting the use of commonly used fumigants to combat soil-borne diseases like Phytophthora. In the early 1990s, soilless cultivation became the standard for strawberry growing in Europe. Nowadays, all European professionals grow their greenhouse strawberries out of the soil, in growing media. During subsequent years, the growers developed a whole range of different systems, ranging from the use of grow bags on raised beds, to various types of containers, wire systems and steel gutters.
In the United States, the situation is still different. Most strawberry farms are located in California and farming strawberries in open fields is still the most common method. In this article, we will share our knowledge about the benefits of switching from open field cultivation to growing your strawberries in a high quality growing medium.
6 advantages of growing strawberries in growing media
While the main reason behind the massive shift in the Netherlands was to find a way of combating soil-borne diseases, there are many more advantages compared to growing in soil.
1. No need to rotate the land
First, although this may be a bit obvious, you no longer need to rotate the land when you grow crops in growing media. When strawberries are grown in containers with fresh growing media, the grower is no longer reliant on the soil quality. This adds certainty in terms of the location, and enables the grower to invest in his growing facilities and infrastructure.
2. Reduced water and fertilizers
Secondly, since water shortages are an increasing issue for a lot of growers around the world, switching to cultivation in a growing medium can contribute to solving this problem. When growing strawberries in containers or grow bags, most systems enable the grower to automatically collect the runoff water. After disinfection, this water and the fertilizers that are left in the runoff water can be reused. When you compare the growing process with and without the collection of runoff water, it’s clear this brings about massive savings in the water usage per kg of strawberries.
3. Higher yields
In the growing systems using growing media, the plant density can be much higher than in soil plantings. As a result, the grower has a higher assimilation surface. Higher assimilation leads to larger total yields, and to better quality plants and fruits.
For example, when a table top system is used, the berries are not in contact with the soil or the growing media at all, but they are left freely hanging in the air. As a result, there is less berry loss due to Botrytis or Anthracnose. This growing method also prevents the loss of berries to birds or snails.
4. Reduced use of pesticides
As we discussed in the previous paragraph, the yield per surface area is typically higher in systems that use growing media. When spraying fixed rates of pesticides in a given area, the usage per amount of produced berries also decreases.
In addition, berries that are grown in a growing medium typically need a lot less chemicals in order to flourish. This results from the cleanness of the growing medium and the protected environment in which the plant grows.
5. More control over the crop
The protected environment mentioned above offers even more benefits than just an opportunity to reduce the use of pesticides. Since the root growth is constrained to the borders of the containers or grow bags, the growers can react very quickly to any changes in the weather. This also enables the growers to steer the plants into a vegetative or generative stage.
In addition, the growers can apply irrigation and fertigation methods directly to the plants, making both highly controllable. In this way, the growers can more easily improve the berry quality and size.
6. Better labor conditions
Finally, growing strawberries in containers and in table top systems has benefits for the pickers and the people who need to check the plants. In a table top system, the strawberry plants are lifted off the ground and placed at an ideal height for both the plant and the pickers. There are also modern systems available that separate the berries from the leaves, making sure the fruit is well exposed. This not only leads to increased picking conditions, but also to an increase in the picking speed.
The limits of growing strawberries in growing media
Now that you are aware of all the benefits of switching from soil to growing media, it’s time to look at the limitations. In general, the initial investments to start growing with these methods are higher than the investments for growing in soil. The grower needs to acquire new knowledge about growing in growing media. He should also learn more about steering crops with the right fertilizer schedules, and it’s important to learn about other new parameters like the EC and pH levels and irrigation volumes.
In addition, the right water quality, even though it is important in soil plantings as well, is essential in this type of cultivation. It’s therefore crucial that the grower learns more about this factor.