Our on-farm experience with several strawberry varieties over the last 20 years at Lakeview Farms.
Allstar (not available in 2006+)
Earliglow (not available in 2006+)
Cabot Our dependable mainstay variety
Darselect (not available in 2007+)
Mira (not available in 2006+)
Mesabi (not available in 2006+)
Wendy (not available in 2014+)
Galletta (not available in 2014+)
L'Amour (new for 2012)
After having grown Allstar for over 15 years, 2005 will be our second year without this very dependable variety. Allstar was an exceptionally vigorous variety that never seemed to be plagued with the root rot problems of flashier varieties like Jewel or Honeoye.
While Allstar is a very productive variety with excellent root rot disease resistance, it does have a lighter colored, mild favored fruit that is very unattractive when thawed after freezing. Even though my U-Pick customers did not usually come to our farm with the intent to freeze strawberries, they would inevitably pick more fruit than they could consume in a few days and end up trying to freeze the remainder and ended up dissatisfied when the berries were thawed. This forced us to always have two fields ( and the required field supervisors) available for picking and ask each customer the "freezing" question before assigning them a row to pick -- this greatly complicated our operation and forced redundant staffing. I did notice however during the final week of the Allstar season when temperatures were higher that the flavor and color of the Allstar was quite acceptable so there is a chance that this berry might work for someone in a more southern climate.
Old, flavor conscious Strawberry customers will undoubtedly miss Earliglow again in 2005. We have had to eliminate this planting because of age and low productivity. Cabot should be a good replacement.
Cabot is an exceptionally large strawberry (like the California berries in your local grocery store), except that they are good tasting. The appearance of Cabot is generally very attractive except for the very first berries which tend to be slightly irregular in shape. Its major downside is its relative lateness -- roughly 10 days after Earliglo. This berry was developed by the Canadians in Kent, Nova Scotia. The berry is definitely softer than the rock hard California berries that you buy in the store and probably will not keep as long in the refrigerator after you pick them. It produced a few berries in the fall of 2002 that I sampled -- the favor was not as good as Earliglo but still pretty good.
May 30, 2003: I have been eating a few Cabot with cereal these last few days and came to the same conclusion about flavor: pretty good but not as good as Earliglo. They sure make an impressive strawberry pie !
This was our best tasting strawberry strawberry during the rainy 2004 season and customer acceptance continued to be excellent for 2005. Experience of Farmer Carl's wife and a few other customers indicate that Cabot is probably not our best variety for making jam unless you are looking for a "jelly" type jam. Most of the berry will dissolve in the jam (there will be very few chunks of berries) and the color will be a lighter red than I would like to see. Jam flavor is still good, however.
From 2006 thru 2010 Cabot performed quite well for us and customer acceptance was excellent, however, the incidence of Anthracnose Crown Rot seems to increase each year. Anthracnose Crown Rot is normally a serious problem of strawberries in only mild climate areas like Florida, California, and the coastal areas of the southeastern US but can apparently be a problem in more northern states during excessive warm, rainy weather. Anthracnose is typically introduced into a planting by infected nursery stock. We experienced a serious episode of Anthracnose in the mid 1980's after purchasing plants from an Arkansas nursery -- the variety was Scott which is known to be particularly susceptible. Up-to-now the conventional wisdom was that purchasing plants from a "northern" nursery would eliminate this problem but since our plant source is Michigan, this is obviously no guarantee! Once a plant is infected, there is little chemical control can do other than perhaps limit the spread to non infected plants. Normally, when a mother plant is infected (wilt symptoms) the fungus appears to be transmitted to even rooted daughter plants which eventually wilt and die. While fumigation will eliminate the fungus in the soil, growers in transition climates (along the old Mason Dixon line) should only grow Cabot if they have a source of plants that are known to be free of the Anthracnose fungus and willing to spray frequently during episodes of warm, rainy weather. While probably not essential, drip irrigation would be helpful in limiting spread of this devastating disease. The life of a Cabot planting in transition areas like St. Louis is at best two fruiting seasons--we had to plow up a block of Cabot after only one fruiting year in 2010.
Fruiting Cabot performance and customer acceptance in 2011 and 2012 was quite good and the incidence of Anthracnose Crown Rot in new plantings was reduced as we 1) switched to ground that had not grown strawberries for at least 6 years 2) soaked transplant roots in a dilute Abound solution 3) used a more aggressive Anthracnose spray program during warm and rainy weather spells 4) sourced all strawberry planting stock from a more northerly nursery.
Cabot performance in 2013 was again good but some late summer problems with grasshopper, whiteflys, and spider mites stressed our renovated strawberries more than I would have liked and prevented the narrowed rows from completely filling in by fall.
Darselect is a standard variety grown in France and Italy that has holds good size . This is a berry for people who like to pick large berries with a good flavor in a very short length of time! This is a much softer berry than the "rock hard" strawberries available in the supermarket from California so you will need to handle it carefully to avoid bruising.
In 2004 and 2005, those customers preferring a tart (acidic) strawberry like Mesabi (below) however, were disappointed with the flavor of Darselect and thought that it seemed "flavorless". With two years commercial experience with Darselect in Missouri it is obvious to me that even under excellent weather conditions like 2005, the flavor of Darselect is similar to Allstar and leaves something to be desired . Darselect, however, is an extremely productive and high yielding variety that is reasonably easy to pick and generally well accepted by my customers who are "used to" store purchased California berries. Darselect is extremely susceptible to leaf spot and cyclamen mite-- so it must be sprayed more frequently than I would prefer--particularly in mid summer after the harvest season is over.
Mira is another Canadian strawberry variety that seems well adapted to the Midwest. Very attractive, glossy, and firm berries that are good flavored and hold their size well throughout the season. Mira is "the berry" for those who prefer a berry tart in flavor like our an old favorite, Redchief. Although Mira is a fine tasting berry, I was a little disappointed with its size in 2004. In 2005, the size of Mira was even more disappointing and once again I judged the flavor no better than Darselect. This variety was plowed up in June 2005 and will not be replanted.
This variety is reported to be very susceptible to black root rot in wet, clay soils (like our farm) so it was planted on raised beds in fumigated soil. As you may recall from 2002, we lost the entire (1 acre) first year crop of Jewel to black root rot.
Mesabi ripens about the same time as Allstar but much better color and freezing quality. Developed by the Univ. Minnesota for more northern climates so it does not hold up as well in a hot and rainy St. Louis summer. It does have a tendency to sunburn easily like Earliglo under the right conditions like several days of cool cloudy weather followed by intense mid day sunlight with calm winds. The plants tend to be small which makes picking the fruit a little easier.
For 2004, however, Mesabi was the very latest strawberry to fruit and seemed to hold up very poorly under the extremely wet conditions we had late in May. It was a very pretty berry with good flavor and good size but not holding up well in rainy weather is a serious problem. Most of this variety was plowed up but we did keep three rows in 2005 just to be sure that 2004 was not a fluke year. Mesabi performance and flavor in 2005 was much better but not enough to warrant planting this variety again.
AC Wendy is a very early strawberry was developed by the Ag Canada Kentville Research Station in Nova Scotia (the same Research Station that produced Cabot).
We planted about 1/2 acre for trial in 2011 and Wendy proved vigorous and produced runners quite well. Plant leaf size and crown diameter going into dormancy was smaller than I normally expect, however.
2012: Wendy was as early as advertised and required 3 irrigations for frost control but some berry loss was noted in a frost pocket created by terrace drainage basins. Early blossom size was smaller than expected and seemed to translate into smaller than normal ripe berries (Surecrop size). Flavor was bland (less acidic than I prefer) although the berry itself was very attractive. Plant tissue test results in mid August after a late June renovation showed normal nutrient levels except for Nitrogen (3.45%)-- a level which is normally considered excessive. Tissue test ratios of N to S (29) and N to K (2.3) were well outside the desired range and could have contributed to the size & flavor problem. The only nitrogen applied for 2012 was at June renovation (45 lb. N) and in September (30 lb. N). In September we performed additional plant thinning by hoe and prepared to carry this variety into a second harvest in May 2013. Plant leaf color in late November 2012 turned a bright red color that is normally indicative of Nitrogen deficiency so the high plant tissue nitrogen test results in August may be suspect.
Despite all the steps taken, Wendy performance in 2013 was similiar to 2012 so this strawberry was eliminated from our planting.
Galletta is a very early strawberry was developed by Jim Ballington at North Carolina State University primarily for plasticulture.
We planted about 1/2 acre for trial in 2011. Galletta was quite vigorous and produced runners well. Plant leaf and crown size looked normal.
2012: The result of our Galletta harvest in 2012 was unfortunately quite similar to Wendy (see above) with small size and generally bland flavored berries. When pressed, customers seemed to prefer the flavor of Galletta over Wendy, however. Galletta foliage did not turn bright red in late fall like Wendy but no tissue test was run for comparison. Overall, Galletta, seemed slightly superior to Wendy and we will carry this variety into a 2013 harvest after additional plant thinning in September by hoe.
Despite all the steps taken, Galletta performance in 2013 was similiar to 2012 so this strawberry was also eliminated from our planting.
L'Amour is a mid season strawberry developed by Courtney Weber in the Cornell (New York State) breeding program. I was encouraged to try L'Amour because tests in Ontario showed that L'Amour had good flavor and exceptional resistance to soil borne diseases such as black root rot, a serious problem for varieties like Honeoye & Wendy in wet clay soils.
We planted about 1/3 acre for trial in 2012. L'Amour proved even more vigorous than Galletta or Wendy. Plant leaf and crown size looked good but the harvest in May 2013 will be the real test.
Perhaps we are spoiled with Cabot but the overly vigorous L'Amour created too many runners/plants which probably hurt berry size. 2013 L'Amour Flavor was no better than Cabot. We renovated the planting and will give it another look in 2014.