What information can you give me on organic greenhouse strawberry starts?

K.W.CaliforniaAnswer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding organic greenhouse strawberry starts.Many strawberry growers rely on starts that are certified disease free, as strawberries tend to be a disease and pest magnet. However, as you indicated you might be able to serve a niche to organic strawberry growers in your region.There was a study funded by the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) grant on the topic on producing organic strawberry plugs. The link below is to the full report for this study, in which the authors discuss methodology, fertilizer and potting mixes. This should be a helpful guide for you to determine the types of materials and methodology you will need to get started.Title: Developing a system to produce organic plug transplants for organic strawberry productionhttp://www.hos.ufl.edu/ProtectedAg/SARE%20Final%20Report.pdfA farmer in Virginia has developed a system without greenhouses that is inexpensive. There is a report about the grower’s costs, materials and methods from the Vegetable Growers News available online: VIRGINIA GROWER DEVELOPS LOWER COST STRAWBERRY PLUG PRODUCTION SYSTEM Vegetable Growers News November-December 2000, Vol. 7, No. 6By: Charlie O’Dell, Extension Horticulturist; Virginia Techhttp://www.ext.vt.edu/news/periodicals/commhort/2000-12/2000-12-04.htmlIn both of these cases the growers bought certified disease free runners from a service in Canada that starts the runners. If you are interested in producing organic runners, this will require significantly more start-up and productions costs.A study in New Zealand looking for a commercially viable production system for organic strawberry runners is discussed in a Horticulture Society research paper. The researchers recommended the enhanced curtain system as the most suitable for organic production systems based on disease and pest problems, sanitation, and number of runners produced. They described the curtain system, as “mother plants” that are grown on benches, and runners are allowed to fall down off the benches. Runners are harvested and propagated under mist to produce plug plants. The enhanced curtain was similar, but the first two runners are potted into growth substrate using PB3/4 bags and placed onto the bench next to the mother plant.In the study they make the following recommendations, for quality indoor runner production under organic conditions:• High level of sanitation such as UV resistant net curtaining (or similar product) for insect proofing; white hydroponic plastic (or similar product) for covering of the soil and keeping the tunnel house clean.• For the enhanced curtain system, PB5 bags or similar sized growing containers for strawberry mother-plants with PB3/4 bags for potting the first runners ? alternatively a larger trough can be used for holding both mother and first runner plants.• Single shelving (from inert material for ease of cleaning) at 1-1.5 m height for adopting a curtain system.• Collection and re-cycling of drainage-water and/or adjusted irrigation management, which reduces the risk of leaching.• Hot compost (? vermicast) as the basic growth substrate, with the option of adding a pro-biotic (such as Bokashi) for improved plant nutrition.• Constant pest and disease monitoring of runner plants is important to maintain high quality standards.References:Ed. G. Waite. 2006. Development of a Commercially Viable System for Organic Strawberry Runner Production. Proc. Vth Int. Strawberry Symposium. Acta Hort. International Society for Horticulture Science.Charlie O’Dell. 2000. Virginia Grower Develops Lower Cost Strawberry Plug Production System. Vegetable Growers News. November-December 2000, Vol. 7, No. 6Cantliffe, D. et al. 2004. Developing a system to produce organic plug transplants for organic strawberry production. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Project #GS02-013.