Most gardeners in the know define organic gardening as the use of naturally occurring substances and beneficial insect predators rather than chemical fertilizers and pesticides. For those that grow organic strawberry plants, this can be a challenge. As one expert noted, growing strawberries organically costs just about twice as much as growing them using commercially made insect killers, fungicides, and other out-of-the-lab concoctions. It seems, unsurprisingly, that bugs and disease favor the succulent, sweet fruit just as much as humans do.
Why They are So E X P E N S I V E
Labor costs are significant in growing organic foods, including organic strawberry plants, and is a key factor in what drives prices up. Instead of wholesale spraying or dusting the plants with chemicals, insects are often simply handpicked off the plants. Natural sprays, such as garlic oil, help ward off and kill insects not only by the repugnant odor, but also by clogging their breathing apparatuses and also because of its slipperiness.
Insects cannot gain a foothold on an oil-saturated stem. But natural remedies have their drawbacks. They often have to be repeated quite frequently and regularly over the course of a growing season to serve the same purpose as a once or twice treatment by chemicals, and this can drive production costs up.
Beneficial insects have been a great boon to growers of organic strawberry plants, as well as other organically grown crops. Insectaries (businesses that raise beneficial insects) charge premium prices for the environment-friendly bugs they raise. For instance, one of the insects that preys on organic strawberries is the spider mite. Beneficial mites combat the spider mite with great success, but the cost of buying them from an insectary is reflected in the price the consumer pays at the market.
Attracting Your Own Beneficials
One economical way for the home gardener raising organic strawberry plants to beat the bad-bug invasion is to plant companion plants. For example, the Shasta daisy and helianthus annulus (sunflowers) are known to attract beneficial mites, one of the biggest foes of strawberries. There are also many cheap-to-plant herbs that attract beneficial insects.
Ladybugs (which feast on aphids) love to gather around yarrow, dill, fennel, and tansy. Parasitic wasps, eaters of whiteflies, moths, beetles and the larvae of the common house fly, frequent gardens that grow lemon balm, parsley, and yarrow. Lacewings on the hunt for just about any insect with a soft body (aphids, mites, and scale) look for them in plantings that include alyssum, dill, coreopsis, Queen Annes lace, fennel, and/or tansy.
There is nothing quite as good as a fresh-from-the-garden strawberry, on toast as preserves, freshly sliced on shortcake with a big dollop of whipped cream, or straight off the plant and popped right into the mouth. Organic strawberry plants may seem to be a lot of work to grow, and we may grouse at the cost of this inimitable fruit at the market, but when it is all said and done, there is just nothing that can compare!