Lassen Canyon Nursery
By Sue Ralston
By Sue Ralston
Photo: Kayla Nichol
As autumn approaches and the days get shorter, Redding’s weather finally begins to cool down. Some home gardeners’ thoughts turn toward planting cool weather crops such as lettuce, spinach or broccoli. But how many gardeners know they can still plant strawberries as summer comes to an end?
Lassen Canyon Nurseries, rooted in the North State since the 1950s, has been supplying home gardeners and commercial growers with strawberry plants since before most readers were born. They’re a North State institution, with operations in Shasta and Siskiyou counties, growing not only strawberries but also several varieties of raspberries and blackberries.
“Most people think of strawberries as something that pops up around spring and stops producing by June. But you can plant them as late as September and get fruit in about a month,” says Ellen Brammer, yard manager at Wyntour Gardens, a local nursery supplied by Lassen Canyon. And if you choose the right variety, they’ll produce the following year. “Once the weather starts cooling off, if the winter isn’t freezing cold, I’ll go out and find a couple of berries on my plants through the winter,” says Brammer. They’re a perennial plant and they don’t need frost protection in this area.
For late summer and early fall planting, seek out everbearing or “day neutral” varieties such as Albion, Seascape, San Andreas or Sweet Ann. They’ll blossom and set fruit even when the days begin to shorten, until a hard frost puts them into dormancy. Even then, they’ll survive the winter to begin bearing fruit again when warm weather returns. Lassen Canyon’s strawberries are generally available at Wyntour all year. “We get them in bare root form in February, sell about half to the public that way and hold back some of the bare root ones in containers for later sale,” Brammer says.
Sweet Ann is a variety developed in Lassen Canyon’s own breeding program and patented in the last few years. It’s favored by organic farmers because of its resistance to disease and its sweetness and high productivity. Brammer favors the Sweet Ann variety herself. “It gives a nice big fruit and tastes like a strawberry should.”
Lassen Canyon, a family business co-owned by Kenny Elwood, Jr. and Liz Elwood-Ponce, has earned the distinction as the very first tenant at Redding’s long-vacant Stillwater Business Park. A groundbreaking is planned for later this year and the business will build its 20,000-square-foot corporate office and four or five 5,000-square-foot greenhouses, primarily for blackberry and raspberry operations. “We’ll also build a cooler facility so we don’t have to rent cold storage from other facilities,” explains Elwood-Ponce. She expects about 30 employees to work at Stillwater.
The nursery, though firmly established in the North State, has operations in about 20 countries where strawberries are grown in volume. Lassen Canyon has begun providing summer internships to college students with the goal of helping them gain hands-on experience and acting as a pipeline for future jobs at the nursery. A biology major might be interested, for example, in the plant health or breeding programs, a business major in sales. A business or Spanish major might be interacting with customers in Spanish in an international internship located in Valencia, Spain.
Kayla Nichol, who will be a senior at Cal Poly this fall and is majoring in agricultural science, secured an internship at the nursery and is learning about all phases of the strawberry business. “I want to be a high school ag teacher, and we’re required to gain some hands-on experience in all aspects of agriculture,” she says. Nichol was familiar with Lassen Canyon’s operations from her time at West Valley High in Cottonwood, where she needed an elective, stumbled into a nursery class and found herself growing strawberries as a project. “It really piqued my interest in ag,” she says. So far her internship at Lassen Canyon has included touring the greenhouses, getting an overview of the growing process and getting her hands dirty. “Today I actually got to cross-breed two different varieties of strawberry and in two weeks we’ll see if I’m successful.” Nichol is not only thrilled to be doing such a substantial internship, she’s happy it’s paid. “Not only do I have a great summer job, but I’m learning something I can use for my future.”