Greetings from Santa Claus, Indiana and Holly Berry Farm! Flat Aggie is so excited to tell you about her stay here and all about our matted row strawberry patch!
Holly Berry Farm is located in southern Indiana about 20 miles north of the Ohio River about halfway in between Louisville, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana just off of I-64. We are a small town, but we have lots of fun things to do. We’re home of an amusement park, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, which brings about 1 million visitors to our small town each summer. In addition to the fun to be had at Holiday World, we’re also about 5 miles from Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home. Lincoln Boyhood National Park is a great place to visit to learn about the childhood of our 16th president. And, of course, its home to Holly Berry Farm and strawberries!
In addition to our strawberries, we also raise corn, soybeans, and hay. We have 150 acres of pasture that is home to about 70 Black Angus beef cattle. Our climate here is similar to yours, although we don’t get quite as much snow here in southern Indiana as you do in northern Illinois!
There are two main types of strawberry production: matted row and plasticulture. Plasticulture is an annual process (meaning it’s done every year) that involves growing the strawberries on plastic mulch. When the picking season is over, the plants are removed and new plants are set in the fall for the following summer. At Holly Berry Farm, we use the matted rows. These are perennial plants (meaning they come back every year) that we tend for several years before we need to replant.
With matted row production, the strawberries are covered with a straw “blanket” every winter once it gets cold and the plants go dormant (or to “sleep”). The straw helps protect them from the cold winter temperatures. Every spring, when the weather warms, we take the straw off so the plants can begin to grow. My daughter Rachel showed Flat Aggie what the strawberries look like before the straw has come off.
Because there is a half acre of strawberries, rather than rake the straw off by hand like you may do in your garden, we use a hay rake and tractor. Then we go through with a hand rake and rake off any straw the tractor missed. The straw also helps block the light in between the strawberry rows so the weeds can’t grow. It’s soft for picking the strawberries later too! It’s hard to see them now, but under the straw, the plants are just starting to wake up!
After a week or so, the new green leaves have started to grow. And when you look closely, you can see the flower buds! After another week or so, flowers appear. The first flowers that bloom are called the “king flowers”. These produce the biggest berry. When the strawberries are in full bloom, the gentle hum of honeybees can be heard while you are in the rows. They pollinate our strawberries and allow us to enjoy the delicious strawberries!
Once the bees have done their work, the little strawberries begin to grow. It takes a couple of weeks for them to grow and ripen. We grow what is called June-bearing strawberries that bear fruit once in the early summer. We currently have 3 different varieties in our strawberry patch. Each variety will bear fruit for about 2 weeks. We offer our strawberries to customers already picked or they may pick their own. There is some overlap in the varieties and our harvest lasts for about a month. Once the berries are done bearing fruit, we mow them off and use a tiller to thin the rows to about 18 inches wide. This process is called renovation. They then grow all summer and set the flower buds for next year’s crop in late summer. We cover them with straw in late fall and the process begins again!
Flat Aggie had fun visiting Holly Berry Farm to learn about matted row strawberry production! If you are ever in the neighborhood, we hope that you too will stop in and say hello!
Adrienne, Nick, and Rachel Held
Holly Berry Farm
Santa Claus, Indiana