Our strawberry plants are just reaching their glorious full bloom.
Although dwarfed by the more spectacular apple, crabapple and dogwood
trees, which are also blooming now, the strawberry flowers are beautiful,
cheery and full of promise. Clusters of bright white blossoms with yellow
centers bob delicately in the breeze. Most of them will swell to delicious
red berries in just a few weeks.
In our kitchen garden, strawberries grow among iris, columbine, herbs, and
yarrow. Several times over the past decade we've set out a dozen or so
strawberry plants. Each spring I do a bit of weeding, and occasionally,
I'll direct a runner that's heading into the path back into the garden.
Then we pick fresh strawberries in June. Lots of the berries get eaten
right there in the garden of course, but we usually pick enough to have
shortcake several times, or even a strawberry-rhubarb pie, one of our
With more work we could produce a bigger berry crop, or plant other
varieties for a longer harvest. But for now, this is a pretty agreeable
arrangement. It's not surprising that strawberries are easy to grow. They
can be found growing naturally over much of eastern North America. We have
several patches of these native strawberries on the farm, too. Their
berries are smaller than the cultivated ones, but are loaded with flavor.
The wild berry genes are an important part of the cultivated berries.
Strawberries prefer full sun and like to grow in fertile well-composted
soil that holds plenty of moisture, but also has good drainage. They
aren't too particular about soil pH. Strawberries are usually set out as
small plants in the spring and then bloom and bear fruit the following
Happily strawberries grow their own replacements. Each plant sends out
runners which, every so often, push down roots and grow "daughter plants".
The best of these can be transplanted to expand your berry patch.
Some may wonder why we should even bother to grow strawberries here in
Connecticut. After all, they're available much of the year, at a low
price, shipped in from California. Right now, a quart of strawberries is
on sale in the supermarket for $1.99.
Flavor is one big reason to bother! California's export berries are bred
to have more fiber and less sugar. This makes them sturdy for shipping,
but not so tasty to eat. Who wants high fiber in their strawberries,
anyway? Wonderful sweet flavor is what you get with garden berries.
Besides their great taste, strawberries, like blackberries and cranberries
have cancer-fighting properties. In addition to healthful flavonoids, they
all contain a polyphenol which neutralizes carcinogens before they can
invade human DNA. One study found that strawberries also block the
formation of some carcinogens in the intestines.
Health concerns are another good reason to grow your own or to buy organic
strawberries. The Environmental Working Group analyzed the results of tests
conducted by the FDA on 15,000 food samples. Their analysis found that 12
fruits and vegetables in particular had the largest number of, and the most
toxic, pesticide residues. At the top of the list for the most
pesticide-polluted fruit or vegetable was - you probably guessed -
In order to grow strawberries all year, cheaply enough so they can be
shipped across the country and still make a profit for the retailer, the
growers must use lots of pesticides. Before planting, the ground is
sterilized with tear gas and with methyl bromide, a chemical which is 50
times as destructive to the ozone layer as CFCs. It may be responsible for
5-to-10 percent of the ozone depletion which increases our chances of
getting skin cancer. Up to 20 applications of pesticides are sprayed on
the strawberry plants during the season. So, those cheap California
strawberries aren't really good for the health of humans or the planet.
Discover the real taste-treat of fresh, local, organic strawberries. Plant
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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