Strawberries worth the effort

Strawberries are fraught with enemies. For you to have a bowl of these beauties on your kitchen counter you need to put in some effort. Yes, there will be weeds among the plants; yes, slugs will damage the crop; yes, birds will tear them to bits ; yes, moose will pull up the whole plant and eat it; yes, you need to do something to help them. They are so worth it. Our strawberries may not be the huge red-all-the-way-through product you get at the grocery store. Be thankful. Ours are delicious. Smaller, paler and sublime.

There are a couple of actions you can take to guarantee success: use landscape fabric, cutting a hole and setting the plant in. This material will slow the onslaught of weeds. It also will make runners less likely to find a spot to root, and it will keep the berries clean.

OR: do what I do — using a raised bed, let them grow like mad, keep them weeded, which doesn’t take much time because they are so close together there isn’t any room for weeds and let last year’s foliage create a ground cover to keep the berries clean.

Keep in mind that strawberries got their name because a common practice is to put straw under them to keep them clean. I have attempted this and ended up with straw blowing in the wind. Plus the slugs loved the environment under the straw. Nope. No more straw.

They also need a bit of rejuvenation. Using your hands, rake your fingers through the mat of plants. You’ll feel the old plants (they will be dry) and they pull up easily. Let the newer plants, from last year’s runners take over. This way you will always have a fresh bed of berry plants.

We have a secret weapon for the birds: Jade the Dog. Half golden retriever half yellow lab there isn’t a bird she won’t chase. Is that a Steller jay out there in the berries? Go get it Jade! WooHoo! Off she and it go! No muss no fuss. Gone. Of course, the jay will need to tease her on and off a few more minutes, but it has been distracted from damaging crops.

Then, I decided that we have too many strawberries, the plan was to decrease from two raised beds to one. The “grands” no longer want strawberry jam, raspberry has won out. So I thought the easy way out of this was to pull up the plants. Then I would have yet another raised bed to commit to vegetables. NO. Emphatically NO.

I don’t want more of anything. We have almost finished up the last of the frozen vegetables and are ready for something fresh. So a brilliant idea comes to me: let my strawberry plant-less friends pick. We will harvest all that we need/want and then start making calls. John, who does the berry picking (reluctantly) agrees with this new system. I hope it works. I’ll let you know.

Raspberries, my how they love to travel. All of the raised beds nearest them have shoots coming up. Well, you need to bend over and pull them out. That really is all you can do. I thought that by planting mine in raised beds they would stay put. No. Off they go. Right now they are cropping up in the garlic bed. There really isn’t much to pulling out the shoots. The action doesn’t disturb the garlic or whatever else you have growing. Just pull them up and drop them on the compost pile. But you need to be vigilant, keep pulling as the season moves on. Also, the original plants are so vigorous that they have filled in the three foot square beds that I hoped would confine them. I need to dig out young plants but still have some to replace the more mature plants when the time comes, which is the catch because I don’t know when that will be. Always a challenge.

Years ago we bought a shredder and there has been a love/hate relationship ever since. It doesn’t do what I want — shred up the left over garden waste so it can be added to the compost in smaller pieces. All of that material just chokes it. Rats.

What it does do well is shred all of last year’s foliage that I have raked off the perennial beds. It has reduced several huge piles to a very manageable amount. It is ready and waiting to be layered into the compost. We are still hacking our garden waste with a machete but we won’t be faced with that chore until the harvesting starts.

The soil is too wet to be worked. I am so ready to get out there and dig around but I know what a disaster that can be. When the soil is too wet and you start messing around out there you will be stuck with rock hard clumps ALL SEASON. Resist the urge. You will know when the soil is ready when you grab a fistful, squeeze it and if it falls apart it’s ready, if it stays in a ball, walk away. You’ll find something else to do like trim a rose bush.

NOTE: The Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Extension Service, which has a wealth of information but is located in Soldotna, has an excellent web site: www.uaf.edu/ces/districts/kenai. For those of you who need a tedious amount of information on how to build a compost pile it’s all there. Use it.

Longtime Homer gardener Rosemary Fitzpatrick has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

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