Planting strawberry runners is an easy way to create plants for next year’s garden or to make a little cash at the farmer’s market!
There are a lot of ways to make a side hustle from your garden. Some require a lot of work planting and harvesting, but some are considerably easier. One simple way you can make a little money at the local farmer’s market is to propagate plants. You could also raise from seeds and then sell at the market or at the end of your driveway, but planting strawberry runners is smarter. Some things like tomatoes or peppers are commonly sold in the spring/summer, but take considerable resources to grow in the winter. Also they don’t bring significant return on investment (ROI) if you’re constantly buying seeds.
Often we save the seeds from our best producing bell peppers and tomatoes to be planted again next year. By picking the best producing plants, you’re likely to get the strongest strain of plant for your soil conditions. The other option is rolling the dice again at your local nursery or big box store next year. However, there is an even simpler plant to explore propagating for sale… the humble but delicious strawberry.
Who likes strawberries?
According to the USDA about 98 percent of the strawberries consumed in the US are grown in California (90%) and Florida (8%) primarily because of the climate. Strawberries love those warm days and comfortable nights that abound in much of the United States during the spring. Since California has this climate much of the year, it’s easy to see why so much of the strawberry crop in the US comes from this area where it can be grown nearly year round!
Strawberry appeal has grown dramatically in the last 20 years as people pursue healthier choices. Plant production is up over 220% during that timeframe (2000-2020). This demand has also driven many first time gardeners to begin planting their own strawberries rather than buying from the store. Strawberries are generally a “fuss free” plant that virtually everyone loves. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like strawberries with whipped cream as a spring treat? So it’s easy to see why many people begin their foray into gardening with this sweet and simple berry.
Common experience buying strawberry plants
Sometimes consumers can have sticker shock when buying their plants the first season. At the time of this writing, the strawberry plants in our area sold for ~$5 per plant this season. That means for a flat of strawberries, (6-8 plants) you’re shelling out $40, which can have a lot of people second guessing their decisions. The numbers get even higher at nurseries selling more exotic or specialty “designer” plants for $20 or more each. However, even with these high plant prices, optimism often wins out and that same customer ends up standing in the check out line at their favorite big box store dropping $100 on strawberry plants. Unfortunately, these plants are often neglected and one step away from the compost pile before the customer even buys them. This results in lots of disappointment when they die off or fail to produce.
That’s where you can step in and help fill a need.
How is the farmers market experience different?
Let’s face it, typically the people shopping at farmers markets are not the same people shopping at big box stores. For a variety of great reasons, these people are looking for a different approach in the food they consume. Whether it’s grass fed beef, organic vegetables, or local honey, people are looking for things grown and raised locally. If grown in a sustainable way, most are willing to pay a slight premium for that product. You are now in a position to bring locally grown varieties of strawberry plants uniquely suited to the local environment AND grow them using organic composting techniques. This allows you to meet a need in the market with a desired product.
Propagating strawberries (planting strawberry runners)
Pick your variety
This seems like it’s obvious, but we’ll say it anyway. You’re going to need some established strawberry plants to do this. Since these aren’t from seeds, they are going to be clones of your strawberry plants and not new variations. That means that any disease or pest weaknesses with the original plant are still going to be present in these.
Research and make sure you know which varieties grow best in your USDA zone, and local area. Make time and go to your farmers market and observe what’s being sold there. Then you can either capitalize on what people want or you can carve out a niche for yourself with unique varieties that nobody else grows locally. It’s a safe bet that the people at farmers markets are looking for fresh plants and often varieties that are unique.
Heirloom plants are always popular because they are non-GMO. You can use this as a selling point with people who want to avoid genetically modified varieties. Some example varieties you should consider are the French Gariguette strawberry and if you’re particularly adventurous, possibly the Alpine Yellow Wonder. The latter is, as you probably guessed, a yellow strawberry and not red. This is a great way to start conversations at farmers markets.
Propagate into organic compost
As we mentioned above, one way to really stand out is to have both an heirloom variety of strawberry that’s non-GMO. A second way to stand out is to use locally sourced organic compost. If you have a story about how you collect “green” waste from local restaurants it really sets you apart and helps people to recognize you as a part of the community. Not only does using organic compost help you make a connection, but it’s also great for the strawberries which love nutrient rich and well drained soil. You could use a potting mix from the big box stores, but a large portion of the content is peat moss that won’t help with the long term growth much. You are better off sticking with well made compost that will be evident to the customer.
Ever thought about using worms to speed up your composting in your garden? If so, check out our video on building a worm tower composter and check out our other article here. Ok back to the regular programming.
Step 1: Setup for planting strawberry runners
Select pots that are large enough for the plants to grow into without needing to transplant. Avoid using small pots that will cramp the berry and restrict access to the nutrients it needs to grow. Check out these pots we recommend if you don’t want the optics of reusing old pots. This is a biodegradable pot that you can start the strawberries in, but you’ll still want a plastic container to give it structure. If you’re looking for presentation, these plastic pots are a bit fancier an have a “greenhouse” top.
Step 2: Identify the runners and nodes
If you’re planting strawberry runners, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Look for what could be described as “long fingers” coming off your plants (called stolons). In the picture below you can see what looks like long extensions from the plants with very small plants growing at regular intervals on them. Those long extensions are the runners and the small plants are the nodes. The nodes are what you will plant in the next step to create your clone. By the way, if you read “clones” and immediately thought of Star Wars… you get bonus cool points!
Step 3: Find the nodal roots when planting strawberry runners
Next, examine those small nodes and look for the portion that looks like it already has the beginning of roots. These nodal roots on a strawberry plant are called “adventitious roots”, and no these are not “adventurous” roots. They are roots that form from any non-root tissue on the plant. Whenever these roots touch good soil, they will begin growing and start a new clone of the original plant.
Step 4: Separate the new clone from the original
Finally, once you’ve finished planting strawberry runners and have vigorous growth in the new plant, you can snip the original runner and the plant will be fine growing on it’s own. However be cautious of doing this without the proper care and watering. In the picture below, we have our pot sitting on a landscaping rock where it can quickly dry out in the heat of the summer. So make sure you reposition those plants in areas where they are watered daily once you separate it from the primary plant. You should also ensure that any plants further down the line are established before cutting the “lifeline” from the mother plant.
This is the fastest and simpliest way to propagate your strawberry plants to sell, start a new bed, or simply give away (if so inclined) to a neighbor. If you have an elderly neighbor who still enjoys doing some light gardening, consider asking them if they’d like a free strawberry plant. It’s a great way of paying it forward and gives you a great way to get to know them better.
If you’re going to sell your wares at the local farmer’s market, make sure you keep your plants in great shape with the right nutrients because nothing sells your product faster that deep green leaves and healthy looking soil.
If you live in a colder climate and are going to keep your plants for next year, then you either need to get them in the ground or get them inside/in a heated greenhouse. While many hearty varieties can easily survive colder temperatures, they will quickly die if their roots freeze. If wintering outside, you’ll want to mulch over the plants with several inches. The decomposing action of the mulch over the winter creates heat which can keep your plant roots from freezing. The colder the winter, the deeper the mulch but try to avoid the dyed mulch for growing food crops.
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