I love strawberries and would eat them every day if I could. Alas, strawberries are at the top of the list of the “Dirty Dozen”, and so I try not to buy any that aren’t labeled as organic, which means they are usually more expensive. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that I grow my own!
When I was a child living at home, my father always grew strawberries in our backyard… way, way back in the backyard. I would help him pull weeds and trap slugs, but generally, strawberry growing was his hobby. Now that I look back, I realize it was the solitude he enjoyed while gardening, and I must have been quite the pest! My poor father was truly drowning in estrogen, having three daughters and no sons, and I am sure he enjoyed his quiet time away from his three incessantly chatty daughters! 😉
The first year growing strawberries up here on our homestead, the harvest was just okay. Between the birds, the banana slugs, voles and the mice, we had a hard time getting any of the harvest for ourselves! And, since we didn’t actually live here yet, we had to rely on some automatic sprinklers to water the berry plants, and unfortunately no all the plants got the water they needed. We planted Ozark Beauty and Quinault Strawberries, because those were the two varieties we found at our local nursery. That winter I covered the bed with a thick mulch of pine needles and oak leaves. It worked and the strawberries came back thicker than they had been the previous year. But again, we had problems with critters.
Last spring I added some Seascape strawberries from The Sustainable Seed Co., along with the Ozark and Ouilette strawberries, to a new, raised bed. I have been extremely happy with this “new-to-me” variety. The Seascapes are fairly large with a very sweet flavor, and produce a fairly heavy crop in the late summer.
This past winter, instead of applying the pine needle and oak leaf mulch, I used a frost blanket over the raised strawberry bed.
When I pulled it off this late winter, I was surprised to see some new growth already! Although the pine needle and oak leaf mulch had worked well, I was worried that so much organic matter might be harboring some pests, like the huge banana slugs that we encounter up here from time to time. Well, the frost blanket actually did a better job, and I was able to check under it on warm winter days to see if there were any critters under there. Since it kept the strawberry plants frost free and it was easy to lift the blanket to check for slugs, this is something I will certainly use from now on.
Even though I had been cutting off a lot of the “runners” so that I would have larger plants (and more strawberries) in the long-run, the plants continued to put out the runners, even in the fall. And run they did, everywhere, apparently even during the winter under the blanket!
Strawberries gone wild!
After taking off the blanket off this spring, I saw that I needed to thin out a lot of the plants within the bed and also alongside the bed. In fact, some of the strawberries tried to set roots into our log retaining wall!
So, here we were with quite a few “extra” strawberry plants. Since I don’t have my permanent beds made yet, I had to find places to tuck the new plants. Once the permanent beds are done (another year away) I will be able to re-home these new plants into their forever beds. And by that time, the original strawberry plants will be past their prime. Strawberries produce best during their second year, and then usually decline in production after that. But the runners are their way of renewing and giving us new plants.
Isn’t nature cool?
To keep out the birds, Ray built this great bird netting structure for me. When I need to harvest the berries, all I have to do is throw the netting up over the structure to get into the bed. It works really well. Also, having the bed raised seems to deter at least some of the banana slugs.
We have been reading lots of books and have attended a few seminars on companion planting and land use, and realized that some of the new strawberry plants would be perfect in the pepper bed, because not only do the strawberry and pepper plants “like” each other, the large strawberry leaves would shade the soil around the pepper plants, keeping the soil a bit cooler and helping to reserve water.
I also have had a cute terracotta strawberry pot that we brought up from our previous home in the valley. I had planted this with herbs years ago and it didn’t work very well. So, since I had so many new plants, I decided to try the pot again. So far, so good!
What have I done with all my strawberries?
I also wanted to try out my Sun Oven as a dehydrator, and thought I would try out a batch of strawberry fruit leather.
First I washed and hulled the strawberries, then whirled them up in my little blender.
Next, I added some of our delicious honey, about 2 tablespoons, and set the pot on the stove to simmer. The strawberry/honey pulp simmered for about 20 minutes and reduced in volume by about half. Now the pulp was a bit thicker and didn’t spread so easily.
Unfortunately, while carrying the pan to the Sun Oven, it tipped a bit and the pulp spread out a little more than I had planned, but I went ahead with the process anyway.
The Sun Oven worked great! With the glass door propped open, it stayed at about 200 degrees, which was perfect! Once I could lightly press my finger into the top of the thickest part of the pulp and nothing smooshed out, I knew the pulp was now fruit leather. You can also see that the fruit surface looks like leather!
I placed the pan inside on the table so the leather could cool down, and once it was cool, I used scissors to cut the leather into strips. Don’t take off the parchment paper! Now that the strips were cut, I was able to roll each one up, and then place into a glass mason jar for storage.
That’s it! Easy, peasy! Nature’s candy!
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