The rumors began a week ago.
Despite having the row covered, my grazers, and I have 8 of them now (and no the baby is not included!) have been trickling in the reports.
The strawberries are rotting. And they aren’t even ripe yet!
Until the last few days I had been too busy trying to get the garden in to investigate the reports. Once the seed sowing and planting was far enough along that I could walk away, I couldn’t see what was going on in the strawberry patch for all the thistle and clover (do you think my soil is screaming for nitrogen??).
When I really get looking around, the thistle isn’t just in the vegetable gardens… it’s everywhere. The race is on against the thistle seeds. The flower buds are coming on and it won’t be long before they’re blowing in the wind.
Now that I only have a few herbs and flower seedlings to transplant (and the new potato seeds to plant when they get here), my main focus is to de-thistleify this place!
Starting with the strawberries.
This is what the strawberry patch looked like a couple days ago. I couldn’t see strawberries in there rotten or otherwise. My grazers must have been very ambitious to fight their way through the thorns for a snack.
And I was just as ambitious to fight through them to get to the bottom of this problem and figure out why our berries were rotten.
It took two and a half long days of hard work, but thanks to my many helpers (motivated by the promise of visiting the zoo when the seeds are all in, the weeds are pulled, and the gardens are mulched) our compost pile is literally heaping with all those weeds and my berry patch is clear and clean enough that I could see that the previous owners had “mulched” the berries with black plastic. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was cheap black plastic that was now flimsy and torn to shreds allowing the berries to sit on the soil. Where the non-breathable black plastic was remaining, it was preventing the plants dead leaves, stems, and berries from last year to decompose. The berries were just sitting right on top of all of that.
Thankfully, there is a quick and easy, super cheap fix that will prevent future berries from rotting even before they ripen… Hay or straw mulch!
This time of year farmers are looking to clean out their barns, removing broken or spoiled bales or loose hay so they can refill the barns with this year’s hay cuttings. Put up an add on Craigslist offering to clean it up and take it off their hands. We did just that less than a week ago and already we have had 3 replies- one for 15 bales (which we already used), one for 20 bales, and one guy has 200 bales worth of loose hay!! Free for the taking!
Not only will the hay or straw mulch keep your strawberries from rotting, but they’ll keep the beds weed-free and as they decompose will build organic matter. As they break down and disappear,just add a little more.
In the winter, pile it up high, covering the strawberry plants to prevent them from being damaged by frost and when spring rolls around, pull the mulch to the sides to uncover the plants and you have berry rotting protection all ready to go!
To date we’ve harvested about 3 quarts of decent strawberries. (Not counting what the grazers “harvested.”) That’s a FAR cry from the over 25 quarts we pulled from our little patch at our old home a couple years ago! And certainly no where near enough to even contemplate making any jam, let alone baked goods like Strawberry Banana Bread or Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Strawberry Scones.
But at least now I have hope for the next few weeks before the season comes to a close.