By REBECCA LEFTWICH

For eight years, area families have made a tradition of annual treks to Whitley Farms.

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Whitley Farms Strawberries

The Sharpsburg pick-your-own operation, established in 2011, offers fresh, locally grown berries, honey, and homemade jams and jellies. It’s an especially popular destination during strawberry season – currently underway – which begins in April.

It’s the last berry season under the current owners, who are retiring and say they hope to sell to new owners who will continue the Whitley Farms tradition.

Even without access to a pick-your-own farm or a farmers market, strawberry lovers can ensure access to fresh berries by cultivating their own at home – or even in community or school gardens.

To get a strawberry bed started, all you need is a small area that receives full sun most or all day, according to the University of Georgia Extension Service. Strawberries will grow well in many types of soil, but the most desirable soil is fertile, medium-light in texture, well-drained and with good moisture-holding capacity. Avoid planting heavy clays, deep sands and wet soils.

After selecting the site, have the soil tested to determine lime and fertilizer needs. Also, have the soil assayed for nematodes. The Coweta County Extension Office has information and supplies for making tests. If lime and/or other nutrients are needed, or nematode treatment is recommended, don’t neglect to do as suggested; these treatments are essential to produce good berries.

Why should you grow your own berries? Here are just a few reasons, according to www.strawberryplants.org :

Home-grown strawberries often taste better. Commercial strawberry operations maximize their profit by selecting strawberry plant varieties that produce high-yield, durable, shippable strawberries instead of selecting the best-tasting varieties.

Strawberry plants are less expensive than store-bought strawberries. Ten to 25 strawberry plants usually cost less than $20, and 25 plants typically will produce enough berries for a family of four.

Strawberry plants are perennial. You’ll get a return on your investment year after year, and it will usually be many years before you need to replace the plants.

Strawberry plants multiply themselves. Most varieties of strawberry plants will produce runners to propagate themselves. That means your strawberry production has the capacity to increase exponentially.

Home-grown strawberries require virtually no preparation. You can pluck them right off the strawberry plant and eat them.

Strawberry plants are small and easy to grow just about anywhere. You can find a spot to grow strawberry plants if you can see the sun – even in pots on a windowsill.

For more information on growing your own strawberries, visit UGA’s Center for Urban Agriculture website at www.ugaurbanag.com .