Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Strawberries Finally Pay Off

Those of you who have been reading PATSP for a while will be familiar with the story, but just to make sure everybody is crystal clear about what this means:

We moved to the current house in 2009. I had a lot of ideas in the gardening department, and more enthusiasm than sense, so I'd bought all kinds of plants (where "all kinds" means "mostly annuals") in preparation for the move. One of the higher-priority items was a strawberry plant ('Fort Laramie'), because my family had had a substantial strawberry patch when I was a kid, and this was something I wanted to duplicate in the new place. (I had similar dreams regarding raspberries, lilacs, weeping willow, and rhubarb, none of which are anywhere close to happening, even after four years. And the willow is never going to happen, on account of not having the space for one. But I digress.)

Well. So when we moved in, all the plants I had purchased were either stuck somewhere immediately (mostly in containers), or thrown up against the side of the garage until we could figure out where to put them. The strawberries were in the latter group. Realizing (correctly) that we were likely to procrastinate for a while, they sent out runners and planted themselves by the garage, because strawberries are no-nonsense plants that will not put up with your shit.

Which was all great and everything, but they planted themselves too late in 2009 for anything to happen, fruit-wise. So then there was a fall, and a winter, and suddenly it was 2010.

They came back fine, next to the garage, and produced a few (very exciting!) flowers, which turned into a handful of little white fruits, which got bigger and bigger and redder and redder -- and then were completely consumed by birds / squirrels / rabbits.

And then there was a summer, a fall, and a winter, and suddenly it was 2011.

Which was the year that the husband decided that they needed to be moved away from the garage, because he had plans for the garage. Some of them got moved in the spring, and some of them got moved in the fall. The ones that were moved in the fall mainly died, and the ones that got moved in the spring lived, but were obviously set back a bit by getting moved. So no strawberries that year.

And there was a winter, and suddenly it was 2012.

2012 looked promising initially, but I think they were confused. The spring started super early, and they were still recovering from the move the previous year, some didn't survive the transplant, and then they got hit with a drought, so we didn't collect any strawberries in 2012 either.

And. There was a summer, and a fall, and a winter, and suddenly it was 2013.

With all that for context, then, you can imagine how excited I was about this:

This is only the first bowl; there have been another 1.7 bowls this size so far, and it seems likely that we're going to continue collecting fruit for another couple months. (I didn't find a lot of information about 'Fort Laramie's performance specifically, but this page claims that it "really does everbear," so we may be eating a lot of strawberries this summer. Not sure what to expect from it in our specific conditions, though.)

When I was a kid, Mom used to prepare them by cutting them up and then sprinkling a little sugar over them, so that's what we did with the first couple bowls. I wasn't quite prepared for the taste. Not that they don't taste like a strawberry; it's more that, compared to the ones from the supermarket, they're really intense. (Have you ever eaten something that was flavored with artificial strawberry flavoring, and thought to yourself, goodness gracious, no real strawberry has such an intense, cloying taste, what are the manufacturers thinking, trying to pass this off as "strawberry-flavored?" 'Fort Laramie' strawberries really taste like that.

I then ran into an article somewhere on-line, which I can no longer find, a few days later, which explained how this happened. Bigger berries, everything else being equal, are faster and easier to pick, which saves harvesting time and labor costs. And of course strawberries are sold by weight, not by sugar content or flavor or whatever, and the cheapest, fastest way to pack on weight is for most of their volume to be water. Therefore: tasteless, odorless strawberries the size of apricots. (Basically the same thing that's happened with other fruits -- supermarket oranges are why I no longer like oranges, for example, because they're so bland.)

These, though, are a lot softer and less fibrous, the individual berries are smaller, and you can -- I am not kidding -- smell them from twenty feet (~7 m) away. Why we're not having to fight more with the birds and squirrels, I have no idea.

So. I think I spent $7 for the original pot, and I'm guessing we've gotten at least seven pounds (~3.2 kg) out of them, albeit after waiting for four years. It's about damn time.


Ginny Burton said...

Wowee! What gorgeous berries! I am so jealous!

Pat said...

Mmmm, real strawberries. I think most of it is in how much nitrogen you put in your fertiliser. Too much and they balloon with water. I have had organic strawberries just as bad as big industrial ones.

Some supermarkets here are doing premium ranges ("Finest", "Taste the Difference") where they endeavour to make the food tasty and loveable. I had some "Eve's Delight" strawberries (on offer, as cheap as the usual Elsantas from the Almerian greenhouses) which were as good as any homegrown I have had, though the variety surely helped. It was like a large, juicy but scarlet Cambridge Favourite except sweeter and more perfumed. Just found in Britain afaik but that is just one more reason to move here :)

I have got some musk strawberry seedlings but they aren't going out yet as I have to clear some space. Next year hopefully, but I am sure these will be worth waiting for, even four years.

Ms. said...

GREAT post...especially the details about store bought phony, tasteless berries VS the REAL thing! Congratulations on the patience and the payoff. now plant rhubarb and you'll be able to do several strawberry rhubarb pies in 2014!

Liza said...

Congratulations! Strawberries are awesome.

I just started growing them this year, so I'm glad to know not to get my hopes up for awhile for harvesting them. I figured it wouldn't be the first year.

You know what else has no flavor anymore? Most apples. It's so depressing. What used to be Golden Delicious is now Golden Chewy Shit. You have to hunt for ones that have any sweetness to them.

Melody said...

Wow, congrats on the strawberries! I got to pick them wild once when I was a kid and I still remember how much better they tasted than the gigantor supermarket strawberries. Buying them also wholly depends on where they came from, California's are always terrible but New Jersey strawberries and blueberries at the peak of the season are surprisingly good. Man, I can't wait to have a garden and try and plant some of my own.

Claude said...

Last year I took a home grown cantaloupe to someone who'd never had one. od course, this cardboard balls from the market don't compare. I heard that it inspired them to grow their own garden this year. I just hope they don't blame me when the bugs attack... good on you for the strawberries!