Perennially Awesome: The Strawberry

Before I can even open the door, I start to hear the scurrying of little people getting ready for Daddy to come home from work.  Big Boy squeals and clumsily wields his cherub thighs toward the back door while the girls hide under the table anticipating my ‘finding them’ by noisily giggling to each other.  Once the welcoming ceremony is concluded, one of the girls inevitably asks, “Can we get strawberries?”   “Of course,” I say and we parade outside with or without shoes.

It doesn’t get any better.  June is a great month for gardeners and what better way to enter the beginning of summer like strawberry season.  If you have a home on Long Island and little children and NOT growing strawberries you are doing a huge disservice to whole family.  They are awesome for so many reasons:

  •                 Kids love them
  •                 Very Nutritious
  •                 Easy to Grow
  •                 Save Money
  •                 Multiply like crazy

June is the month were strawberries will peak in your garden and provide multitudes of strawberries every day.  Like most plants you’ll want to put them in a sunny area and have well-draining soil but that’s basically it.  I throw some compost around the plants at the beginning of the spring and leaves in fall.    Two varieties that I’ve had great success with are:  Quinault (everbearing) and Sequoia (June bearing).  Before planting in the yard I bought one container of each that I was able to separate into four plants in a long window container.  I heard that if you cut off the blooms the first year the plant will concentrate its energy into producing a stronger root structure and will therefore produce bigger and more plentiful crops in the second year.  I experimented by clipping two and letting the others produce and while it was fun to eat the mini strawberries in the first year, the clipped plants did much better the second year.  So have patience and nip those blossoms in year one.

After production each plant will start sending out runners also known as daughters where new strawberry plants will form at the end of the line.  My four plants turned into at least 12 plants the following year, in the 30’s the next year and I have so many now that I give them away to any interested friends and family.

This is still the start of my blogging journey but one thing I need to mention alluding to future posts is that most of these plants can be stacked meaning don’t think of them only as fruit producers.  Strawberries are an awesome ground cover for shading out the sun and retaining moisture for larger plants such as grape vines (which I am doing right now for my concord grapes) or trees, bushes, etc.  You want to move toward keeping your garden experience enjoyable and not a labor.  This will keep your picking to maintenance ratio more in your favor.

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Get out there, don’t sweat the details, and grow, grow, grow.

Lets talk about Potatoes

There are a lot of relatively easy plants to grow and potatoes are one of them.

I’m going to assume everyone knows what a potato is and what it looks like.  Here is the short story on what you need to know and I’ll relate my own experiences.  Potatoes are little energy bombs.  The plant soaks up the sun and nutrients from the ground, and deposits the energy in the roots.  The roots are bursting with all this energy and start to pack on the pounds, get fat, and become the tubers you seen in the store.  If you leave a potato out of the ground, this little energy ball will start to morph into a new plant by sending out greenery to soak up the sun.  Left alone too long, the potato will become a shell of potato skin that quickly dies.

Potatoes are a nightshade so they’re also in the same family as tomatoes.  One of the cool features of this group is that when the plant is hilled, the stem starts sending out roots to gather more energy.  This is one reason many people will lay a tomato plant on its side and bury the stem all the way to the top at the beginning of the growing season.  More roots will form, more energy is gained, and bigger tomatoes are produced.  In the case of the potato, those new roots store the energy instead of producing big juicy fruit.

So we’ve got this energy ball and it’s started to grow eyes.  Now what?  As soon as the ground can be worked, you dig a trench and pop those little babies in there.  Lightly bury them and wait for the growth.  It’s May right now – did you miss the season?  I don’t think so.  You just won’t get as many potatoes.

Once your potato plants start to get about 1 hand to 1 ½ hands tall, feel free to bury them leaving only a couple of leaves exposed.  Last year, I buried the whole plant and about a week later I had still had no greenery.  I dug down and where I had had fat green leaves, the lack of sun turned them yellow and scared.  No big deal.  I exposed them and they were revived.  Repeat this hilling process all summer long.  At some point, the plant will yell, “uncle,” and start to yellow.  Don’t worry – just leave the plant alone and get ready to harvest.  This should be roughly the end of summer.

A note on hilling.  I planted my potatoes in raw dirt.  I dug down about 1 ½ feet and hilled them with a layer of leaves and a light layer of the dirt hill that was created during trenching.

When you dig up your potatoes, clean them off, throw them in a paper bag, and put them in the basement.  Don’t leave them in the ground.  I’ve experimented by leaving them in the ground and they turn into mush balls come spring.  Now, you may get a couple of survivors, but you’ll get better results if you dig them up.  It’s kind of funny because you take all these precautions and the next year’s trench mound may start to produce more plants.  These volunteers are awesome, but not the norm.

So good luck with your potato crop!  Experiment constantly, take my advice, and don’t get too hung up on details.  Just throw some potatoes in the ground and start growing.  I haven’t gone into specific details on timing, fertilizer, soil amendments, etc. on purpose.  Some people get hung up and try to time everything perfectly.  We’re human and things happen in life that will throw off our planned gardening activities.  Don’t fret and grow, grow, grow.

Welcome!

Greetings and salutations!

Just a bit about myself – I’m an average guy commuting to the city for work, great wife, 3 awesome kids and my other baby: my garden.  In the short 3 years we’ve lived at our house, I’ve cleared land, transferred existing plants around the yard, and planted a wide variety of edibles.  We’ve sown everything from lettuce and cucumbers to Jerusalem artichokes and nasturtium from seed and have a growing assortment of perennials including various grapes, blueberries, currants, Goji berries and asparagus to name a few.  Fruit trees also abound such as cherry, plum, peach, apple, and fig.  My strawberries are itching to extend further into the yard, my grapes have already started forming, and my potatoes need to be hilled.  The secret is that it’s really not that hard to do.  I rarely buy soil, fertilizer, or even seeds (after buying them initially).  Each post will explain how a non-professional can put together a successful garden without spending a ton of money or a lot of time.

Spring is in the air and summer will be quickly upon us.  Get out there, don’t sweat the details, and grow, grow, grow.

Please excuse the mess, we’re still under construction here at longislandhomegardener.com, but remember to come back periodically to check in as more and more features will be added.