In general, I don’t like strawberries. I think the ones available at the grocery store, like tomatoes, are hard, tasteless and basically, are inedible. Ebecause I never know if they are organic, and I want to avoid the 45 pesticides commonly found on strawberries. Strawberries that homegrown, or freshly picked purchased from the farmers market, however, are a totally different story. These are picked at their peak, are they are juicy, luscious and fragrant.
How strawberries got their name is unknown. It may have came from medieval Europe, when street vendors sold the berries strung on pieces of hay. Or, from the fact that the fruit ripens as the same time of as hay, with the Anglo-Saxon word for hay is streaw. Their genus name, fragaria, is derived from the Latin fragrant, after their delightful smell.
Wild strawberries are found worldwide. One of the first references to them was written in the 1st century, by a Roman poet. In the 13th century, a Greek doctor wrote about using them as a treatment for depression. Over the next few centuries, wild strawberries were being grown in European apothecary gardens, and all parts of the plant were used to treat a variety of illnesses, ranging from throat infections to broken bones.
At the same time, in the “New World”, tiny wild strawberries were foraged for and eaten fresh by native people, and in Chile, wild strawberries were being cultivated. As Spaniards traveled North into different countries of South America, they brought the strawberry with them, calling them frutilla, or little fruit.
In 1711, a French spy was sent by the King of France to gather info on the Spanish West Indies. While secretly documenting ports and analyzing Spanish fortresses, he also noticed the strawberries growing. When returning to France, he brought back 5 strawberry plants. These cultivated wild Chilean strawberries were all female and would not reproduce on their own, but crossed with with a European strawberry, and this hybrid became the start of the commercial strawberry grown thought the world today.
Strawberries are a perennial plant, and there are regionally adapted varieties for almost any garden. In Northern California, the best time to plant them is now, when they are available in the nursery as bare root. Harmony has them right now in bundles of 25, for only $7. We built and prepped a raised bed last fall, in anticipation for planting out the strawberries, which I did earlier this week.
There are three types of standard strawberries: June-bearing varieties, everbearing, and day-neutral varieties. June-bearing produce one large crop per year, in late spring or early summer. This is the type of strawberry usually grown commercially, and the standard practice is to remove the plants each year after harvest to get a large, consistent crop each year. Everbearing plants bear one crop in early summer and one in fall. Day neutral types continue peak in early summer, and the continue to produce into the fall.
Day neutral types do best for my area, so we chose two varieties to fill our bed with: Alibion and Aromas. I like having more than one variety in case one fails, I’ll have a backup. More variety means more resilience in the garden. Its also fun to do comparison to see which is best suited for my garden, and if I can tell a difference in the fruit.
Strawberries need full sun, and well draining, acidic soil. Before planting, I amended the soil with E.B. Stone’s 5-5-3 fertilizer, to add essential nutrients to the soil and to raise the acidity level. I spaced my plants out in 3 staggered rows, each 18″ apart. When planting strawberries, the most important thing is to keep the crown above the soil level, otherwise, it will rot. Make sure the roots are completely covered, so they don’t dry out.
Once my plants were all set out, I then laid drip line. I don’t have piping out to the garden yet, and am still irrigating with a billion hoses strung together to reach the one spigot near the house, but I’m hopeful we’ll get it together this year. I knew it would be significantly easier to set the drip line out now, when my plants were itty bitty, and connect to the main line later, then to try and weave tubing though full grown plants. Plants will produce for about 3 years, then need to be replaced. If I have to wait another 3 years to get a irrigation pipes out into the garden, I might go crazy.
Then, I gave a light water, mulched around the plants with a thick layer of alfalfa straw, and put up bird netting! Now, I just have to keep an eye on if I need to water, and I patiently wait until my plants grow, bloom and fruit!