There is no better time for eating than summer – or well, late spring through early fall. Okay, so there’s a lot of good time for eating, but my point (and I do have one) is that there is nothing so wonderful as the riot of flavors and colors that fresh produce bring as the weather turns warm. My garden (which I’ve not shared much about this year) is going swimmingly. The potato patch is insane. I’ve got kale and chard coming out of my ears and the tomato plants look promising (knock on wood and anything else that will help).
Some plants have not liked the unpredictable weather (the peas are struggling this year and the bugs ate all the beans) and I’m dealing with a new wildlife threat. It seems that my geriatric dog was more threatening than I supposed and now that he has left us for the great beyond the neighborhood deer have found (and leapt into) my garden. One bold little doe had a great, and very large, salad of strawberry leaves and chard before we scared her away. I’m testing various repellent measures and will let you know how it goes. For the moment, she seems to be favoring my hostas over my berries and I like that just fine.
Despite the intruder, I’ve picked about 12 pounds of strawberries in the last 6 days. Yes, I said 12 pounds. For some quick practical math – organic strawberries are currently going for $4 a pound at my local Wegman’s. I spent $0 on my strawberry patch this year. $0. I mulched with dry leaves late last fall and have only sprinkled some organic slug deterrent – okay so I’ve probably spent .50. I’ll round it up to $1 for fun. My 12 pounds of organic (and awesome tasting) strawberries would have cost $48 at the market. I got them for $1. I grant you I bought some strawberry plants a couple of years ago, but I’ve harvested every year. We’re well into the gravy zone. I thought I’d share some strawberry info with you so you can pocket $47 worth of free and super healthful organic fruit too. We’ll start with WHY strawberries are awesome, then I’ll talk gardening. If you absolutely don’t want to grow strawberries, skip past the gardening bit and read about storing your berries so you can take advantage of summer’s berry bounty (and lower prices).
Why Eat Strawberries?
Why NOT eat strawberries is my answer as I am a strawberry freak, but from a nutritional perspective this question deserves an answer. Recent research suggests that strawberries may be one of the most abundant and biologically available sources of antioxidants out there – even better than most vegetables (yes, I said that). They also seem to be helpful in blood sugar regulation and may even be anti-inflammatory (more details on all these claims here). There is evidence that strawberries may be helpful in preventing cancer and in slowing cognitive aging as well. So, not only do you really want to eat strawberries, you really SHOULD eat strawberries – isn’t that lovely?!
I’m just gonna go down and dirty here, but there’s a TON of info on these here internets on how to grow strawberries, including this EXCELLENT article. I’m going to tell you what I do with the mutual understanding that I am not a professional, and you may well have better results doing entirely different things.
I have grown strawberries a variety of ways – in pots and in the ground. While I have better results in the ground, I know plenty of people who do better in pots and I think they probably lose less fruit to bugs and rot than I do. I plant my strawberries where they will get at least 6 hours of sun, but both of my patches get filtered light at other parts of the day (shaded on the one hand by a shrub shadow and by asparagus fronds and raspberry canes in the other patch). Ideally they should be hilled up a bit so that the fruits don’t touch the ground when they get large and heavy. Most of mine were not hilled when planted years ago and I’ve only begun to remedy that.
Strawberries should not be picked the first year (or at least not many), but can be harvested subsequent to that. They will spread as far as you let them. I find the best way to get good harvests is to pick continuously through the production season. Every day. This also prevents critters from getting quite as many. With that said, they will not ripen much once picked, so you want to be sure that they are completely red before picking – no white tips. When picking, be careful not to pull too hard on the stem as it is easy to accidentally pull off other stems connected to your berry and miss out on more strawberries. Post season I keep the plants trimmed to keep them from taking over the entire garden and then when it turns cold I cover my patch with dried leaves to protect it from winter’s coldest. Many gardeners say dried leaves are too heavy – I haven’t found this to be a problem. I simply uncover the plants early so they don’t suffocate under the weight of wet leaves in the spring. I watch for late frosts and use a fabric cover to protect them overnight if we get a big cold dip. They start growing and I sprinkle on a little compost when I prepare the rest of the garden if I think of it; the remnants from the leaves seem to do most of the job. If I think of it I feed them w/ a little organic fertilizer or compost tea. That’s it.
If you’re a novice gardener, or you’ve wanted to try but don’t like a lot of bother, I think strawberries are a great bang for the gardening buck and effort – especially since they’re so dang yummy.
I Can’t Eat Them All – Time to Freeze Those Babies
What a divine problem. It’s important to note that strawberries (particularly homegrown) do not keep well. They also become lessnutritious the longer they sit. You can make jam and a variety of other things to use up your strawberries, but the Sis sisters both prefer the laziest possible strawberry preservation method – freezing. When you buy berries at the grocery store, they are usually packaged in the plastic clamshell with holes, this is to prevent moisture from building up and causing the berries to rot even faster than they usually do.
For home berries, I place a paper towel or a dish towel in the bottom of a plastic bag which I leave partly open. I check the berries just about every day and when they are getting too dark (sort of dusky looking) or if they are marred in some way that might cause a very picky child to turn her nose up at them, I simply remove them from the bag and place them on wax paper on a baking sheet in the freezer. I actually cut the leaves off – Bigg Sis does not and I am going to adopt this approach as most of my frozen berries are smoothie bound anyway. What do they know? When the strawberries have frozen completely, I transfer them to a ziploc freezer bag. Then I have huge bags of frozen organic berries (which cost approximately $1 million at the store). This method also works for storebought berries and can save you a bloody fortune in the off season. Stock up, freeze em and enjoy those low prices year round. Delish!
Here are some of our favorite strawberry moves:
Fresh Strawberry Pie
Quinoaty and Quingroaty Porridge with Berries
Strawberry Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Bear-Y Good Oats
Sliced as a topping on: ChocoNana Pancakes, Cocoanutty Good Bars, Pumpkin French Toast