By Jayesh B. Samtani, Assistant Professor and Small Fruit Production Specialist, Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Virginia Tech University

This past season, we were able to evaluate seven short-day varieties, Camino Real, Chandler, Flavorfest, Keepsake, Merced, Rocco, and Ruby June and three, day-neutral varieties- Albion, San Andreas and Sweet Ann. The day-neutral varieties were evaluated for their bearing capacity in spring and early summer season. All varieties were transplanted on Oct 4, 2019, in an experimental design both inside the high tunnel, and in open-field neighboring the high tunnel at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Virginia Beach. The plug plants of all varieties except Flavorfest and Keepsake came from Aaron’s Creek Farm in Buffalo Junction, VA. Flavorfest and Keepsake came from a nursery in New Jersey. Open field plots were harvested twice per week from Apr 10, 2019, to June 18, 2019. High tunnel plots were harvested from Jan 12, 2019, to June 18, 2019.  The average berry diameter of a random subsample of five marketable fruit per plot was recorded once per week per variety.  Below are the key findings so far from the study:

  • Rocco, Sweet Ann, and Chandler cultivars had the highest total yield in the open field, while most cultivars except Albion, Flavorfest, and Keepsake had good yield in the high tunnel (Tables 1 and 2). Both Flavorfest and Keepsake had poor plant growth and we even lost some plants during the growing season.
  • The day-neutral cultivars had higher fruit diameter than short-day cultivars in the high tunnel.
  • Highest monthly yield under both production systems was in May for all cultivars.
  • Percent marketable for each cultivar was higher in open-field than in the high tunnel, which indicates more pest management practices are required in high tunnel.

Table 1. Open-field yield production (lb / plant) at the Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Beach in 2019-20 growing season.

4.10 to 6.18.2020

TreatmentMarketable (M)Nonmarketable (NM)Total (N+NM)% Marketable
Camino Real1.10.21.385
R. June0.90.31.275
San Andreas1.10.21.385
Sweet Ann1.40.31.783

Table 2. High tunnel production (lb / plant) at the Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Beach in 2019-20 growing season.

1.12 to 6.18.2020

TreatmentMarketable (M)Nonmarketable (NM)Total (N+NM)% Marketable
Camino Real1.10.61.762
R. June0.80.51.361
San Andreas0.70.61.252
Sweet Ann0.60.81.441

We encountered several challenges with high tunnel production.

  1. The high tunnel roof blew off from the severe storm that passed through the southeast U.S. on 7 Feb. 2020 and had to be replaced soon after.
  2. We noticed herbicide damage on strawberry plants from paraquat application on ryegrass inside the tunnel. This occurred due to air inversion inside the tunnel.  Strawberry plants took two to three weeks to recover from injury this may have impacted strawberry fruiting capacity in March.
  3. Raccoons and birds can be a nuisance in urban areas and we had some damaged fruit from the same inside the tunnel, particularly in winter time and early spring season when food can be scarce for wildlife.

We have an economist on this project, Dr. Darrell Bosch who is creating enterprise budgets by cultivar and production systems to determine the economic feasibility of strawberry cultivation in the high tunnel and open-field production.  We also have a post-harvest physiologist, Dr. Toktam Taghavi from Virgina State University who will determine anthocyanin, sugar and pH content by varieties in open-field and high tunnel production system. Additional findings on this study will be presented as data are generated and analyzed. This study was made possible through funding received by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services administered, USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant.

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