Strawberries!

We got our first strawberry plants last winter, and planted them in February (2014) in the hoophouse.  We had 97 plants, and they fruited in early May, about a month earlier than usual like most things in the hoophouse.  The berries were pretty small, and I don't think any plant had more than 4 berries.  Honestly, I wasn't sure they were worth the work and garden space for that little output - we never got more than 8 or 10 at once, and shared them out carefully.  After the berries finished, we pretty much ignored the plants.  Eventually, I realized the runners were getting out of hand, so in July and August I had several WWOOFers spend time both thinning runners, and transplanting the old and new plants into new homes.  We turned two 12x24' beds behind the barn into strawberry beds, and then installed 8 50-gallon barrels in the hoophouse, with holes cut in the sides so that they hold something like 40 plants.  Those 97 plants must have created at least 1000 babies - each one makes multiple runners, which set a new plant - which sends its own runner.  They often are making a runner before they're rooted themselves, and frequently have 3 or 4 jumps before fall.  Also the arch of runner stem then branches out a side-runner, which then starts jumping itself - it's absolute mayhem!  We filled the barrels with ~400 plants, and moved another several hundred to the barn beds, and just threw out hundreds that weren't the bigger ones.  The interns didn't finish the original patch, which kept right on making runners, so then we did it all over again this spring, replanting the barrels where the transplants didn't survive being moved in the August heat last year.

This year was much better!  The plants were bigger, the berries were huge, and the older plants set 10 and 20 berries this year.  The hoophouse barrels ripened first, and more evenly because the berries are suspended rather than lying on the ground, and there's no slug damage.  The ground berries, though, do seem bigger, and the plants have more berries apiece.  

I made a batch of jam from the earlier berries, and then the barn beds started in - we picked 3 huge mixing bowls last Sunday alone!  I made 14 jars of jam, and only used about 2/3 of the berries - I dried the rest.  I've made 25 jars of jam and about 2 gallons of dried strawberries so far.  They are already down to one bowl per picking, and I think they'll be done in a week or so, but I'm hoping to dry as much as possible of the rest.  

The jam I've been making is something new for me.  I was strolling through Costco a couple weeks ago, and saw a jar of strawberry-chia seed jam, and realized that the chia was the gelling agent.  I got a big bag of chia seeds, and did some googling.  It turns out to be the easiest way to make jam by far!  The basic recipe is 2 Tablespoons chia to 1 pound fruit - that's it.  You can cook it or not, chop or puree the fruit, whatever you want.  There's no requirement for certain amounts of sugar for gelling to happen like with pectin - instead, you can sweeten to taste, or not at all.  I did some with about 1 C honey (or sugar) to 8 pounds of berries, which was nicely sweet - and 1/12 the sugar of pectin jam!  I also made some with no sweetener, just the chia.  I checked online, and a state extension website said that all fruits are acid enough to water-bath can with no added sugar, so no worries there either.  

This year we are (so far) being much better about pulling all the strawberry runners - we'll only let new babies set roots if they are filling a hole that is missing a plant.  Most of these are yearlings, so to speak, so we'll maintain them for 2 more years, and then let them all set one baby each as a replacement, since they generally play out in about 3 years.  I'd say the strawberries have definitely redeemed themselves this year, and I'm both excited about keeping them, and glad they're almost done!  Next time I get a chance to write, I'll talk about how the garlic scapes have just started coming - I've been canning most days this past week...

Comments

strawberry runners

I would love to have some of those strawberry runners. I had a windowbox of plants last year that died back to 2 plants. Can you bring me some when you come this way?

Absolutely! I'll get some

Absolutely! I'll get some into pots this week :)

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