A Sweet Charlie By Any Other Name

by Gary Mount

What in the world is Sweet Charlie anyhow? When I was a boy, I had a black and white stool in the shape of a skunk that was called Sweet William, but Sweet Charlie?

One of the aspects of fruit growing that we’d like to change around here is in the naming of varieties. As Pam says, who would want to eat an apple named Carousel? Or a peach named Contender? Or a raspberry called Prelude? Anyhow, you get the drift. Who names these things anyhow?

Some years ago, we attended a “naming party’ given by my friend Dave Meirs of Creamridge. Dave is a breeder of racehorses and each year is faced with the task of providing unique names for his many foals. As the mares and their colts were led out for those of us at the party to see, we wrote down a suggested name for each – Dave collected them at the end and had a supply of names that would last for a while. Of course, what we were drinking had a beneficial effect on the quality of the names. Maybe fruit growers should do something similar for new varieties.

But back to Sweet Charlie – it’s a strawberry. And yes we have planted some – about an acre – here at Terhune Orchards. Using a technique developed by the Cooperative Extension Service at Rutgers, we planted the strawberries in August 1999. After preparing the soil by liming, fertilizing, plowing and disking, we made raised beds across the field with a trickle irrigation tube under the surface of each row and black plastic over the top.

Raised bed technology provides for better drainage and aeration of the soil. The black plastic warms the soil for faster and earlier growth and prevents weed competition without use of herbicides. The trickle tube waters the plants and can be used to add fertilizer if the plants should need it.

We planted our strawberries quite close – awful darn close, actually – six inches apart in a double row on the plastic strips making 17,000 plants in our one acre! Then in October, we covered the entire acre with white floating row cover. This cover is spun polyester weighing 0.9 ounces per square yard. It “floats” on top of the plants and provides protection from severe winter cold as well as spring frosts. In addition, the warm microclimate under the covers induces earlier fruiting. The cover will be pulled back before the strawberries bloom, but kept at the edge of the field for re-covering in the case of a spring frost when the blossoms are out. This past winter, you may have seen the white cloth covered field while driving down Cold Soil Rd.

All of this strawberry work has now resulted in an investment of about $6,500. However, the raised bed and close planting techniques “should” result in significant yield, size and quality this spring. As Pam says, I’m a sucker for technology. But I just couldn’t pass up the prospect of a successful strawberry planting in only one year. (Traditional techniques take two years.) But keep in mind the quotes around the word “should”. This is the first strawberry planting at Terhune Orchards. Without the new technology, our chances for success would be slim.

And Sweet Charlie? When we chose a variety to plant, we heard that “Chandler” gave the largest berries and that “Seneca” gave the top production per acre, but that Sweet Charlie was the best tasting. So towards the end of May, get ready for the opening of our pick-your-own berry patch. Check our web page, watch for our newspaper ads or call the farm. Our Sweet Charlies will be ready.