Friday, June 6, 2014

Strawberries, strawberries, strawberries

Allstar strawberries ... pan after pan after pan

When it rains, you raise your umbrella.  When your strawberries ripen, you pick and pick and pick.

I had feared the “Polar Vortex” inspired deep freeze of winter 2013-2014 had damaged our strawberry patch, but the Allstar plant variety I planted two years is producing well this spring, and Ellen and I this week have picked more berries than we can possibly eat.

Wednesday morning, for example, in about 15 minutes we filled our aluminum garden pan with the bright red fruit.  Curious, I got out our kitchen scale and the needle pointed to just under four pounds (1.8 kg).  We had picked almost that many Tuesday.  And Friday morning I picked even more—heaping the garden pan and a smaller plastic container.

We’ve been eating fresh strawberries on our cereal every morning for more than a week.  Our daughter has volunteered to eat some—and did some picking herself one evening.  I’ve recycled tomato clamshell packages to gift two neighbors with prime berries.  Our resident catbird couple has been enjoying some of the sweet fruit too.

And still we have too many strawberries.  Wednesday night we got panicky and baked some shortcake on which we heaped berries, berries, and more berries.  Love that panic!  And we enjoyed leftover shortcake with strawberries again Thursday evening.  And every morning we heap berries on our morning cereal.  What next—freezer jam?

Panic supper for Ancient and Mrs. Gardener
I figure our strawberry harvest is peaking this week and that we’ve picked more than 15 pounds of berries.  Say we pick another eight pounds.  That would be 23 pounds of fruit from the original 25 plants of 2012 and their offspring, called “daughters” in berry ads.  A local farm charges U-pickers $2.75 a pound. A pound clamshell of berries at our local Giant Foods supermarket recently have averaged $2.99, so our $26.50 investment in the plants in 2012 this year yielded fruit worth nearly $60.00  Not bad—or more appropriately—how sweet.  This Frugal Gardener wishes our bank paid interest at that rate.

I followed directions that came with the plants from the Indiana Berry & Plant Co. and kept my two small beds narrow to maximize yield.  In addition to producing beautiful fruit, the two narrow strawberries beds serve as borders of two small vegetable gardens.

This Ancient Gardener sees only one downside to growing strawberries.  It seems that over the years strawberry plants are growing shorter.  Or maybe my legs are growing longer and my arms are getting shorter.  Oh, my Aching Back.  I need to start working in the price of a bottle of acetaminophen tablets into my strawberry cost analysis.  But certainly the harvest is worth a few aches and pains.

In about five years, when it’s time to plant a new bed of strawberries and I’ll be zeroing in on 80 (age, not miles per hour), perhaps I’ll have to start planting only “tall” varieties of our favorite fruits and vegetables, ones that don’t require me to stoop and stand and stoop and stand.  Or maybe by then some genius will have invented a portable garden elevator so I can just hop on, push “up,” and won’t have to struggle to stand upright after berry picking.

Life is good in the gardens at Meadow Glenn.  And that’s the real lowdown.  Really.

Strawberry shortcake--again?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tomato Patch surprise: Going against the grain

My Cape Cod weeder, tool of choice
to uproot wheat seedlings
I took a shortcut when I mulched my tomatoes with straw this year.  I didn’t put sheets of newspaper under the mulch.  And this week I’ve had to uproot hundreds of bright-green wheat seedlings that were poking up through the beige straw.

Taking care of the seedlings was relatively easy.  I used my Cape Cod weeder (see photo).  Wherever I saw a wheat seedling, I just pushed and pulled the weeder’s angled blade at the soil line under the mulch.  The young wheat plants easily yielded their grip of the garden soil.  As I finished weeding around a tomato plant, I fluffed up the mulch—leaving the Tomato Patch looking “like new.”

Time:  Less than two hours.  I probably would have spent that much time easily if I had put down sheets of newspaper before I put down the straw—so I’ll call time for both approaches a draw.  My only second thought was that putting down paper probably makes for a nicer looking bed and prevents growth of lots of nuisance weeds.  Lesson learned: I think I’ll put down paper again next spring.

A wheat plant growing in the Tomato Patch is a weed, to my way of thinking.  Any plant growing where someone doesn’t want it is, well, a “weed.”  I want white clover to grow in most of our yard—so it’s a welcome ingredient of our turf.  Someone else who wants a “perfect” fescue lawn, of course, would consider white clover—you got it—a “weed.”

But with all the wheat weeds, I’ve been wondering why so many wheat seeds were in the beautiful bales of straw I bought at a local farm.  Was the combine not operating perfectly?  Were the seed heads a day or two too “green” to yield all of their seeds to the machine?  Or was this “not that unusual harvest byproduct”?

I don’t know the answer, but my spring surprise in the Tomato Patch is over.  The uprooted wheat plants shriveled when the sun dried their roots and became part of the mulch protecting my tomato plants from rain-splashed garden soil that may carry a variety of tomato-disease organisms.