Monday, May 14, 2012


(image from 77 Ingredients)

Strawberries have been one of the easiest fruits I grow here in Nebraska. They don't seem to require any spraying at all, and even a dozen plants will spread all over the place. But note that they're not entirely work-free, either.

I started a few years ago by planting some ever-bearing strawberries in the northeast corner of my lot. That was a mistake. It might seem nice to have strawberries for an extended period of time, but only the birds and the squirrels got any.

Even with "June-bearing" strawberries (the Earliglow variety works well for me), which ripen en masse over about a month, they have to be netted to keep the birds from destroying my crop. And it's hard to keep the netting up for long.

Even a small hole will be enough for birds to get inside (though not out again). In fact, I'm not even sure a hole is necessary. I've had birds seemingly teleport into my strawberry patch. At least, I've never been able to find out how they got inside.

And netting, of course, won't keep the squirrels away. I had to put up an electric fence for that. Even then, it didn't work all that well until I put strawberry juice on the wires. Now that worked! :)

My squirrels are very tame. I feed them peanuts from my pocket (only in the front yard, these days), and they'll come running up to get one when I'm outside. But two years ago, I had strawberry juice on my fingers when I tossed a peanut to a squirrel, and he wouldn't touch it. Apparently, that strawberry-juice-on-the-electric-fence idea was excellent aversion therapy!

(Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to work with anything else. I've put peach juice on the wires with no result whatsoever. I don't know why. But the strawberry juice works very, very well. Even when they get into my backyard these days, they don't bother the strawberries.)

My original planting shrunk as my fruit trees got bigger. The strawberries would still grow just fine under the fruit trees, but then I couldn't spray when the strawberries were blooming. And although the strawberries don't need spraying, most everything else does. So I had to cut it back.

But I heard that strawberries don't need much sun, and that they'll grow on the north side of a house. So I put a new, larger patch there. I have a tall house, so they're shaded quite a bit, but they still grow great.

They might not produce quite as many strawberries, and they're a bit later ripening, but the plants in that patch are still loaded with berries. And it's a good location for another reason, too. Strawberries are very shallow-rooted, and they suffer terribly in our hot, dry summers. These on the north side of my house do especially well then, since they get some shade.

Anyway, I picked strawberries for three hours yesterday, and my back is killing me. I always have to unfasten the bird netting and crawl under it, then reach out to pick strawberries that can be very hard to find in the dense vegetation. I'm getting too old for this!

And it didn't help that my snakes just love the strawberry patch. They're just garter snakes, but my yard is full of them. I stood on the back porch yesterday and counted nine at once.  And that was just where I could see them. Inside the strawberry patch, they're effectively invisible.

Now, I like having the snakes around, but they can still surprise me. (Even a shed snakeskin can surprise me, sometimes.) A half dozen times yesterday, as I was picking strawberries, I'd be stretched out trying to reach the berries in the middle of the patch and a snake would poke its head up right next to me.

Well, they're harmless, of course, but I couldn't help but flinch each time that happened. We seem to have an instinctive response to such surprises - at least I do. Anyway, if the stretching to pick berries wasn't enough to make my back ache, the sudden jerk when I was surprised by a snake certainly was!

Ah, but it's worth it! These strawberries are much better than what you can buy in a grocery store (which are picked green, pretty much). They're red all the way through, and just wonderful. The earliest strawberries are the nicest - the biggest, certainly. So I give all of those away.

The later strawberries are much smaller, and they start to get more slug and ant damage. So I keep those for myself, freezing most of them for the winter.

Later, I'll have to remove the bird netting, then refurbish the plantings. You're supposed to mow off the leaves on the entire patch, then plow up half of it (alternating which half each year) and let new runners colonize it again.

That doesn't seem to work too well here, because it's always so hot and dry by then. It would be different if I could keep it irrigated, but I've got too much to do already. So I'm still experimenting with different techniques.

We don't seem to have leaf problems here - probably because it's so dry - so I think I can skip the mowing. And I think I might have to pull the old plants by hand, since my plants struggle to put out runners when it's really hot and really dry.

I don't know. My original patch didn't do very well last year, and I might end up tearing it out and replanting it next spring. But I'd rather not, if I don't have to.

At any rate, strawberries are work, but a lot less work than most of the stuff I plant. At the very least, it's easier putting bird netting on strawberries than over grapevines and fruit trees - a lot easier!

And I get a lot of strawberries from a relatively-small space, too. I give strawberries to neighbors, friends, and family - pretty much anyone who wants some - and often still have enough to freeze to last me most of the winter.


Chimeradave said...

Is that a midwest thing? You don't often see snakes in NY or PA. I mean once in a while, but certainly not 9 at a time.

WCG said...

I don't know, John, but I'm sure my yard is particularly attractive to garter snakes. For one thing, I've got a lot of plantings which are well-mulched, often with straw.

There's cover for them, there's a very good place to sun, against the south wall of my garage (and a secure hiding place there, too), and I don't kill every one I see, like most of my neighbors do.

Furthermore, I've got a snake pit under the garage - not deliberately, but that's where they spend the winter, probably in one huge mass.

Most of this is accidental, but I like having wildlife around - especially when it doesn't eat my fruit! I just wish I had some bull snakes here (although they'd probably eat my garter snakes).