Gardening · Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

Every Garden Needs Strawberries

If there were one plant that every gardener needs (according to me), it would be strawberry plants. And can you ever have too many plants? I think not.

And to have a diversified stock of varieties: June Bearing, Ever Bearing, and Alpine. Do this, and you won’t be lusting after out-of-season berries grown in Peru.

Plastic-like underripe strawberries for $7.99 a pound are not good eats. In the PNW, strawberries are imported from Peru, Chile, and Mexico in the fall and winter. We finally get California grown by late spring, but they are no better tasting or looking. The berries are all picked unripe and forced to turn red by gassing with ethylene.

Strawberries are something I feel should be enjoyed in season, grown locally. Eat till you are sick of them. Make jam. Dry them. Freeze them. But don’t buy them in the off-season.

Commercial strawberries are filthy and not suitable for us. Both standard and organic strawberry crops are heavily treated with fungicides. Powdery Mildew is highly prevalent on commercial crops. It is due to how the plants are grown; the easy answer is spraying. This is where I go into my tin foil hat farming area, but the rise in oral allergies to strawberries has increased quite a bit in the past decade, as the demand for fresh produce has soared, where consumers expect access to fresh berries 365 days a year.

Do fresh strawberries leave your tongue feeling fuzzy? Thick? Or do your cheeks hurt oddly? Does the throat feel odd? Those are signs of oral allergy. And a big one to stop consuming them. It’s not the berry you are allergic to. It is the treatment you are allergic to.

When I first started growing heritage alpine strawberry plants I had a number of people who approached me that they couldn’t eat strawberries anymore. I’d ask them to try my berries. Every single person who tried them did not react to those berries. For one, they were ripe (oral allergies are often ramped up by eating under-ripe produce), and no treatments were used. Every one of them bought plants to put in their yards.

So the key is here: Don’t use fungicides, and eat ripe berries, and you should overall be good to go.

Growing strawberries is incredibly easy. They don’t require much resources either and do fine with being fertilized once or twice (or never) a year. Even if you forget to water, and it looks like you killed the plants, they nearly always come back. They are durable, adaptable, and keep going. And they produce new plants constantly (remove and share/toss if you don’t want the area to be taken over). The biggest issue is keeping slugs out (I do use Sluggo as a treatment at the end of spring; it kills slugs by telling them they are not hungry rather than as a pesticide). If you have ducks and let them work (supervised), they will eat all the slugs for you.

Once you get past the spring rainy season, it is hands-off, and pick berries as they ripen. You may need to cover them to keep birds out, though we grow many white and yellow varieties, as birds don’t see them as strawberries.

It’s Time To Start Planting and Seeding:

This time of year is when you want to start looking at plant starts or seeds. Alongside bare-root trees and bushes, you will find bare-root strawberry crowns. I am not a huge fan of these; I only get about a 75% survival rate. Instead, if I want to start new June Bearing or Everbearing plants, I buy them in 6 packs at the nurseries. These are ready to go and will produce berries in the first year; you can find them in stores from now on season-wise, hardened off, and ready to plant. I have found that bare root often takes a second year to produce berries.

Or ask friends if they have runners starting to show up and harvest them. Also, you will often see them offered up on local Facebook gardening groups. This is a great way to try new varieties.

If you want to grow Alpine berries, you can source seeds online (see below for an article on how to grow them) or possibly find someone like me who grows and sells the plants in late spring. They can take 14 weeks to germinate, so they take a lot of patience and time in the greenhouse. You should get berries in the second berry-producing time (which starts in mid to late summer, till the first frost in fall) and then will produce two distinct berry crops every year.

I recommend you grow all three types. June Bearing is often big berries. One large wave of berries, perfect for gorging on, then making jam. Then Ever Bearing, which produces a long line of berries, are often smaller berries. You can pick a bowl every morning with enough plants and enjoy them daily. They can produce into early fall. Alpine types produce small but very potently flavored berries. Children love these bush-like plants.

But whatever you choose, don’t wait! Start dreaming about plants dripping in ripe berries.

Articles On Growing Strawberry Plants:

Dehydrated strawberries are easy to do. Wash, air dry, core, and then slice thickly. Dehydrate at 135° till dry (no moisture), then store in mason jars. Shake every month or so to keep them from settling. Enjoy a mouth of delicious food when you snack on them. Notice the little Washington native strawberry growing next to the jar. Those grow in rocky areas all over our land. The chipmunks love them.

If you preserve as much as possible, you won’t want berries in December. Can pie filling, make jam, freeze sliced berries flat on parchment paper lined trays, then bag up for smoothies. Freeze-dry and dehydrate them for snacks. I’ve even made strawberry lemonade concentrate that I canned.

Using Strawberries: