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April 5, 2011 > Pat Kite's Garden: Strawberry Stories

Pat Kite's Garden: Strawberry Stories

By Pat Kite

Occasionally I can give birth to a strawberry.

Many calamities come between garden planting and picking. Sometimes I purchase a six-pack in which three out of six plants promptly drop dead. Two more wait a while, and then shrivel overnight. Other times the garden snails and slugs hold a class reunion abutting my strawberry patch. The mollusk's that are not enjoying romantic breeding dances apparently have munched green leaves instead.

Optimism persists when just one strawberry plant survives, albeit somewhat ragged. Giving up my environmental angst for a bit, I douse with so-called "safe" snail bait. Then every day I go to my little segment of yard sunlight and praise strawberry plant growth, demeanor and personality. After several weeks, I get about five little greenish strawberries. One falls off for no reason. Another grows and turns pink-beige. Unfortunately it never changes color. This leaves three. They expand. I get so excited!

They turn pink. They turn rose pink. One red berry disappears, perhaps a snack for a raccoon or a visiting skunk. This leaves two. The one closest to the ground develops potholes with black spots inside. But one strawberry survives. It is simply lovely. Nice and firm. Big. I apologize to the plant and say praises. Then I pick and eat... slowly. One homegrown garden strawberry, warm from the sun, is savored in several small bites. This makes me happy. In a sometimes-difficult world, it is amazing what can make you happy.

Today's strawberries originated as a very tiny wild strawberry, usually found in open fields. Often called fraises des bois, it is extremely fragrant and flavorful. Found through the world, our Native Americans crushed and mixed them with meal to make bread. In 1712, a ship's captain found some strawberries "as large as walnuts" in Chile. These were crossbred with wild berries, creating the ancestor of today's large Frageria strawberry.

When planting, remember strawberries need sun, good drainage, and rather rich soil. Place about 10-inches apart. The plant crown should be at soil level. Buried crowns will rot and exposed roots will dry out quickly. Fertilize when growth begins. Water regularly, but avoid soggy soil. Once picked, strawberries will not ripen any further.

Purchased or plucked strawberries will last three days in the refrigerator. Do not wash, or take off their little green cap until ready to use. Best is to eat the same day you obtain. What kind? There are ample strawberry varieties now. Everbearers are best purchase this time of year. It is best to buy from a local nursery which usually imports what grows well in your area.

I once asked my 93-year-old mother-in-law what was a favorite memory of her Lithuanian childhood. "Going out into the fields and picking wild strawberries," she said with a soft smile. So many memories in the gardens of our minds.

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