Our guiding principle is in the quote from the Psalms which states “the earth is the Lords”. We see the earth as a powerful connection between us as humans and the Creator God. It is where we have the privilege to see the amazing mind of God in creation and where we receive the continued sustaining food for life. We see our job as farmers as a work of preserving a particular part of the earth, a piece of land, and the enhancement of the soil so that the processes put in place to sustain life and produce food in season may be continued. The process of life is not only interesting in function but also beautiful to see. Strawberries are particularly wonderful in their ability to come back to life after the dormancy of winter. Within a short period of time they give beautiful fruit apparently from nothing more than brown soil, water, and sunshine.
The process of farming is to work with the processes in creation but also to be creatively involved in the process for the production of food. Although, we have been farming for 35 years, our practices in farming are always changing as we learn more. Through the winter months, we attend meetings in order to learn from the people doing research related to growing berries, plant science, and soil science. We are learning more about the use of compost to increase the presence of beneficial organisms in the soil. For the past 10 years or more, we have been receiving leaves collected from the borough of Lititz as a basic ingredient of the compost. Another farming practice of great importance is contour farming and the use of grass crops for the control of erosion to which this hillside farm is susceptible. If you visit our farm, you will notice that the location of the strawberry fields changes from year to year. This is part of a crop rotation program that helps with some plant diseases which will develop if strawberries are grown in the same field for too many years. Each year we plant some new plants purchased from a nursery and each year a portion of our fields are returned to an alternate crop. The alternate crop may include something like rye for the production of straw used to mulch the strawberry plants over winter.
We are often asked if we spray. There are problems in the growing of strawberries which must be addressed in one way or another. Primarily they are weeds, fungus that infects the fruit and a few insects which affect the fruit production. Large amounts of crop protection sprays are not required but timing is of great importance. We attempt to control weeds with herbicides designed for strawberries which will give partial control of germinating weed seeds. These products are only partly effective and are used in the summer and fall prior to the spring harvest season. The remaining weeds are controlled using specialized cultivating equipment and a good bit of hand work done by youth who work for us in the summer. It is not a favorite pastime activity.
Spray materials are used for the prevention of fungus diseases and insect damage. As previously mentioned, proper timing of application is most important. Research has shown that the control of gray mold on strawberries is most effective if preventative sprays are used during the time strawberries are blooming. It is also of very little help to spray once the berries are present and when symptoms and damage become visible.
In spite of all the efforts to prevent weeds, fruit rot, and insect damage–they do occur. The weather may not always be perfect and if the strawberries are not all picked when they are ripe they will begin to rot. It is for this reason that when strawberries are picked, it is of great importance to remove all the red ripe berries.