Episode-98- Grow Strawberries And Make Strawberry Jam

Results from a tiered strawberry planter – bountiful harvest
strawberry jam


Since it is spring /early summer in northern Virginia a lot of the episodes have been of the permaculture gardening flavor but I assure you that it is all for making a better life. In this kind of weather I want to be outside as much as possible. During the days Monday to Friday I am busy paving the road for the progress of science and not outdoors until the evening. When I am outdoors and with nature I learn more about myself and the world than I can normally anywhere else and I wish to share the experience with you.

I began growing Cavendish strawberry plants in 2010 and I highly recommend that you grow strawberries too. I also recommend that you don’t underestimate the productivity of this wonderful fruit. I initially grew 22 strawberry plants in a pyramid shaped planter that I built in early 2010. The space allotted strawberry plants in this planter was limited and I didn;t know any better. But that’s what we do here at ToDoListhome.com we work on projects and sometimes make mistakes but it is from those mistakes that learning and improving upon our techniques occurs. I grew three other strawberry plants in a corner of a 4 foot squared raised bed and that turned out to be as productive as at least 1/3 of the planter. The planter is really cool looking and I enjoyed building it although it was hard as hell to build because of all the beveled cuts I had to make by hand.  The plants I put in the pyramid shaped planter grew nicely during 2010 and for strawberries the flowers must be picked before fully blossoming in order to ensure productive 2nd year growth. Thus the first year for strawberries grown from crowns and roots as I do is not a year that results in strawberries themselves. However, patience is a virtue when it comes to strawberries because the second year productivity is worth the wait. Last year we were able to pick strawberries for about 10 days and we thought it was a big deal. Although we only were able to harvest a few strawberries each day to us it really cool. Little did we know what was going to be in store this year.

In 2011 I wanted to double the number of strawberry plants from 25 to 50 and was perusing the web for ideas on a planter that was larger and more imaginative the pyramid planter. I had no idea of what to do until I reflected on the growth pattern of the strawberry plant and how it sends out runners after flowering or fruiting. The idea of getting more fruit was decided but the dilemma I faced was where to put them especially the strawberry plants. I perused the net over and over for images of strawberry planters and came across quite a few interesting ones. Based on the space and location of the planter which would be near the garage I needed something a bit more original in concept. So I studied how to Make A Tiered Strawberry Planter After some fooling around with power point shapes I hit upon the idea of creating a triangular shaped planter and a multi-tiered one at that. I expanded on the triangular shape by making it a 3 tiered triangle that would allow the spread of runners during the second year. Additionally it looked really freaking cool and I thought it would be a great addition to a patch a grass that never grew after 2 years of much coaxing. This past fall I placed some onion and garlic bulbs in the planter to aid in keeping pesky squirrels, rodents and rabbits away.
What it took to put it together and place it in the yard:  From the design in PowerPoint and measuring the space in the yard where the planter would go I was able to determine that a right triangle with equal sides of 5 feet and a hypotenuse of 7.4 feet would be the right size.  I  further determined the size for the inner two triangle beds and from there calculated how much wood would be required for the project.  Once a more detailed plan (attached in today’s show notes) emerged I added support posts to the upper two tiers and connected the back of the planter tiers with fasteners.      This planter is 12 and half square feet in area and over 50 cubic feet in soil, wood, and home grown compost with lots of worms all very suitable for growing the 25 strawberry plants my children and I planted in May along with a number of greens and flowers. Like the strawberry plants from 2010 we had to pluck the flowers from the plants last year and boy did it pay off this year!

3. Strawberry season began on May 8 for us this year and lasted until June 1. The early and long harvest season may have been the result of the mild winter we had this past year and we loved every minute of it. I was surprised and slightly concerned when I saw flowers on the strawberry plants in mid-april but I leave it nature to know what to do. All I can do is prepare based on my observations and my observations were all about a bountiful harvest. Which it turned out to be. As the strawberries were forming and turning green I was concerned that birds or other animal life would beat us to the harvest so we netted the pyramid and triangular bed . The harvesting started slowly with about 10 berries a day at first and then grew to upwards to a peak of over 50 on May 26. Then it tapered off steeply until June 1 which was when the last two berries were picked. The harvest production graphed against the 3 week period is exponential and then drops more steeply than it rose. Regardless by the end of the 1 week my wife was busy reeducating herself about how to can strawberry jam. I had strawberries every day for my morning fruit shakes, I had strawberries for my coworkers and my family delivered several small packages of strawberries to some of our neighbors. And yet we still had strawberries to make jam with. And awesome jam it is. My wife ended up making 5 16 ounce jars of jam. The best thing about this harvest season was that my father was here for a weeklong visit and he got to see us pick strawberries every day and enjoy them with us. My wife even made a jar of jam for him to take home and enjoy. You can view the results of our harvests in the pictures located in the slide show on the right side at todolisthome.com and through the link in today’s show notes.

4. The challenge with this picking season was not what to do with all the strawberries but rather how to deal with the numerous slugs that were trying to enjoy our bounty ahead of us. My wife and children were excellent strawberry pickers but they had to resort to picking them slightly unripe in order to prevent the slugs from getting to them. Slugs are slimy snail insects that have a menacing appetite and thrive in damp conditions which our spring has gladly provided for them. One of my philosophies for  dealing with pests like slugs is to over plant beyond the needs of my family. As a general rule of thumb I plan for a 30% loss of production for whatever it is I grow. Although that high rate of loss is very rare in the case of slugs and strawberries it was about 10% which was okay with me but unacceptable to my family. They loved the strawberries and wanted them all. Usually all the picking was done before I’d get home from work but I would do it on the weekends and never noticed a big problem until we were at the height of the harvest. My first line of defense was to place some Diatomaceous Earth. This stuff is not an earth, it is the fossilized remains of microscopic shells created by one celled plants called DIATOMS. I placed some in a used baby powder dispenser and sprinkled it around the plants as carefully as possible. This stuff is wonderful because although you cannot see with the naked eye each particle is actually quite sharp and jagged and pieces the skins of creatures like slugs which then leads to their dehydration and death.  however if it rains or the ground is moist then the effects of Diatomaceous Earth diminish. For short term effective control it is fabulous. Even more so if it stays dry but plants need watered so the usefulness of DE is always short term. I look at it like artillery. Hard, fast, and effective but can lead to collateral damage and does not last. After the first day of observing the effect of the DE on the slugs I was satisfied but knew they’d be back and sure enough they kept coming out especially at night. Then I moved to my favorite stuff Neem Oil mixed with just a drop of dish soap. Neem oil has many complex active ingredients. Rather than being simple poisons, those ingredients are similar to the hormones that insects produce. Insects take up the neem oil ingredients just like natural hormones. Neem enters the system and blocks the real hormones from working properly. Insects “forget” to eat, to mate, or they stop laying eggs. Some forget that they can fly. If eggs are produced they don’t hatch, or the larvae don’t moult. What a wonderful end for slugs. There is debate if neem does work on garden slugs but I can vouch for its effectiveness. Unlike DE it slow to act on the pests that injest it because it a hormone inhibitor rather than a poison so you don’t kill slugs quickly with it but you do end their reproduction cycle in a week or so which is longer lasting. Moreover, neem oil is safe for beneficial insects such as butterflies and my beloved honeybees as long as care is taken not to use it near their habitats or food sources. I observe and interact in moderation and really try to avoid neem oil altogether.

5. Now that strawberry season has ended it is time to put some compost in the bed and make some new space for the runner that are already trying to sink themselves into the nearby grass. I don’t know what I can do yet to best host all of the numerous runners but I will try to make it possible for a similar bounty next year. In the meantime Raspberry season just started and we are certainly enjoying that and this harvest also seems like it will be plentiful indeed. Stay tuned.
That’s it for today now go and do something useful.


Song of The Day – The Beatles – Strawberry Fields mp3  – Video 

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