“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.”
In an earlier age of the world, when there were fewer inhabitants on the earth than there are now, believe it or not, people did not go to the grocery store and hand over $4.99 for a package of strawberries. They grew their own! Wild strawberries were grown in Italy as early as 200 B.C, and so in typical Italian style, along with Milewide’s olive orchard and Romanesco artichokes, it is only sensible we grow our own strawberries.
My first year on the ranch was a bitter disappointment; although we had a thriving strawberry patch in June, we were under constant attack by little “Bambies” passing through the gates of our gardens, and nibbling at our ripe berries. Unfortunately, the harvest season was short, the deer were insatiable, and so we barely harvested a bowl for ourselves. Every year on the ranch is a new experiment to do it better than the last. I’m happy to report that this year, by the ”genius” that is our boss, Steve, we have experienced a strawberry breakthrough.
Our strawberries are organic ever-bearing strawberries, and they produce a harvest from early summer to mid-autumn. It’s best to plant your starts as soon as you can in early spring, in staggered rows of two or three. We keep our beds thriving with Agribon row cloth, it will increase your bed’s temperature about 2-10 degrees, protecting it from the chill of winter. If you keep this cloth on in the spring, it will make your strawberries grow significantly bigger, and better.
Are you starting a new bed, or replanting an existing bed? Doesn’t matter! You must fertilize. If you are working with an existing bed, pull up your strawberries from the year before, put them in a bucket of water, and fertilize before replanting. As for fertilizer, we use manure or our own ranch mix:
3 parts Cottonseed Meal
1 part Seaweed
1 part Bat Guano
1 part Oyster shell flour
Now, we have the berries, but what about our Bambi problem? Leaving the guns in storage, Steve’s method of growing strawberries closer to the house in boxed garden beds is both convenient and clever. The deer are less likely to come close to the house -special thank-you to Rottweiler’s Oona and Zara. Also, we are simply more likely to pass by the beds for a quick snack between jobs and keep a keen eye for harvest-ready fruit, getting to the berries before deer even get a chance. You may also want to try stabilizing wire cages over the beds, to block any animals trying to poke their noses down into the patch.
With plenty of sunlight and decent soil, ever-bearers are eager to grow. The boxed beds, tiered into the hillside create a well-drained environment, perfect for ever-bearers to avoid root rot. This neat set-up makes tending to weeds between the rows simple. Introduce one last 21st century comfort, the automatic watering system, and you have your billet to beautiful berries for months on end.
Brielle, Ranch-hand at Milewide Nursery
Grabbing a mid-morning snack on the trek from the Olive Orchard to the Maple Garden