June 11, 2017

All About Strawberries

As we move to the end of spring, June happens to be one of my favorite months when it comes to the garden. The reason for this, hands down, goes to the ripening of strawberries. It only happens for a few weeks, but when it does I can not get enough.

For those of you who have never tried fresh strawberries from the garden, you need to head to a “U-Pick” strawberry farm as soon as possible (wait till after you finish this post however)! When you buy berries from the store, it does not even compare to what they are like when fresh. Sweet, yet with a slightly tart flavor, they make great additions to salads, desserts, and even as a snack. And there are many different varieties, all with slightly different flavors. Who knew?

You often can tell a home grown strawberry from a store bought one by looking at the color on the inside. If it is red like the skin, it’s ripe and probably home grown. If it is white on the inside and somewhat tart, it generally isn’t or was picked too soon. This one is just right!

During the spring of last year, I decided to add a 6ft x 8ft box to the garden to be filled entirely with strawberries. Starting with 12 plants (six EarliGlo and six Jewel varieties) they spent the year sending out “runners” and expanding. We did get a few strawberries last year, but for the most part, it spent the time spreading and strengthening until the entire box was covered. Here’s an example of the layout I used when designing my box and how it looks currently.

Strawberries prefer full sun and are perennials meaning they will return each year for a number of years if taken care of well. It’s always interesting to see how well they come back after a hard winter, and generally you will be surprised as to how resilient they are.

When it comes to growing them, I find that integrating some compost or leaf mold as a mulch on top of the ground around the strawberry plants in the fall brings good results in the spring. If you would rather not grow them in a raised bed, you could always opt for growing in a hanging basket.

You know a strawberry is ready to be picked when the berry is a ruby red color. If it is light red and there are hints of white, they are not quite there yet.

It’s important to check on them often when the season hits because if your garden is like mine, you are not the only one who thoroughly enjoys these berries. It seems that whenever a berry becomes ripe, it is a free for all with all sorts of animals. Birds will swoop in and take a few bites of a ripe berry and leave the rest just to torment you. Same goes with ants and slugs. Don’t fear, you can always cut away the part that was eaten and wash for yourself. Some people, however, don’t really find that appealing. I think it tastes fine nonetheless.

Last week was the start of the ripening period. And for most of the week, I was out of town. It was up to my wife to do the picking and what we found out is that once they start, they don’t stop. Tuesday evening was the first picking and we have been out there every day since. This week alone we have picked over 3 pounds of berries and it should continue for at least another week or two. You can keep up to speed with how much has been picked by weight on the new yield page here: Yield. I created this page to track what we harvest each year and to be able to reflect back on the year as a whole.

Here’s a look at whats left in the fridge after a lot of snacking and sharing.

One thing to note, it has been very hot the last few days. The temperature has been constantly in the 80’s and even hit 90 on one of my thermometers. This weather may be encouraging them to ripen faster and may explain the large amounts ready daily. Regardless, this hot streak has been abnormal for June from any year I can recall.

Aside from the berries there is a lot going on in the garden. We managed to pull just over a pound of lettuce as the leaves are growing fast with the weather. There also has been a new addition to the garden along the outer fence (hopefully the rabbits don’t take interest before I protect it). I found a new berry plant called a “honeyberry”, which fruits two weeks before strawberries do. They are native to Siberia and can handle temperatures of -40 degrees so I think they will handle Wisconsin winters well. As far as look and taste go, they are a deep blue color like blueberries and supposedly taste similar to them as well. I hope to find out next spring and let you all know.

Well the work continues. We just received about 6 yards of hemlock mulch that I’ve been spreading around the flower beds and the outside of the garden (more pictures to come).

Until next time!

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About the Author

Geoff has been growing plants and vegetables consistently for the last 6 years and actively experiments with, and writes about, all aspects of gardening.

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