We didn’t think we were going to plant strawberries this year. Last year was abysmal; the pretty plants put out few blossoms, low fruit numbers and a delicate crop, delicious to the taste and with a short storage life.
We typically plant strawberries in Autumn for a Spring harvest. With the atrocious harvest last year came disappointed clients and lost revenue. By the time the moment comes to harvest, 80% of your investment into any crop has been spent: the purchase of the seed/plant/transplant, the land used to reside the strawberries, the fertilizer to boost the soil, the water to irrigate, the labor to prepare the field, to make the rows, to lay the black plastic, to separate and plant the crowns and weed the rows for multiple months, the water, the water, the water. Harvesting takes time and resources as well, but at that moment you either see the fruit of your labor or you don’t.
I can look over a strawberry field from a distance and determine how much it will yield based on the blossoms.
Last year the field blossomed at about 30-40%. I think when I say 40% I’m being generous. Very generous. Let’s keep it real and call it 20.
Twenty. Percent. Do you math?
Analyzing the situation Robin and I determined that the plants floundered because of high salt content in the Earth based on our on-going drought (and don’t let Governor Brown fool you, one rainy season does not end a drought – let us continue to be mindful of our water usage) and the high salinity in the water we use for irrigation (we irrigate with what you drink; San Diego City supplied).
We agreed that we would not likely make another investment in strawberries until we installed a Reverse Osmosis system to bring more pure, safe water to our fields.
Working with our new partners we believed we had found a solution to our strawberry problem. With their experience and expertise, it was decided that we could plant strawberries successfully without investing in a costly Reverse Osmosis system.
The strawberries crowns were planted late in the season but thrived with our heavy and constant Winter rains. The plants greened giddily, rising from the glimmering black plastic through those wet months. As they grew, so did our hope. YES!! This was it!! Two acres of strawberries. High fives and dreams abounded! Our Strawberry Monster, Twin A – Sylvie, would be ecstatic!
Perhaps this would be like our first few years of Strawberry Harvest, where pounds and pallets of berries came off the fields – so many, it felt like harvesting summer squash, unrelenting and overwhelming…but, ah! The bounty and harvest were sumptuous enough to yield enough berries to freeze and enjoy through the winter and necessitating a conversion into dozens of jars of glittering jam.
About two months ago, I checked on the plants. The Giddy Greens burgeoned. A few bees had kissed blossoms. The first few berries created were satisfyingly succulent. The struggle surrendered to success. Wyndellen and I walked the fields savoring the fruit of the labor.
A month ago, upon inspection, the plants were bigger and bouncier, there were fewer blossoms and a disturbance in the growth. Runners.
The technical, botanical term for Runners is Stolons, stems that grow out from the main plant, and affix themselves to the ground by roots which then grow a bud and then a new plant.
Runners, Stolons, I don’t care if you call it King Kong or Eartha Kitt, it’s a problem. The strawberry plant’s purpose is not to put out a bunch of berries to keep my eldest daughter happy and satisfied from March to August. The plant’s sole mission is to make more plants.
A strawberry plant can do that in two ways. It can either set blossoms which might be fertilized, could become fruit, which will produce seeds that can then get planted and, if all goes well, grow. That’s a lot of “ifs” if you are a plant. You gotta depend on a lot of things to go right — water, soil, sun, the right consumer leaving your seeds in the right place or leaving your fruit alone, in order to pull that off.
Or the plant can take matters into it’s own Type-A, Its-Easier-For-Me-To-Take-Care-Of-This-Myself hands and put out Runners. The Strawberry Plant is basically all, like, Yo! I can’t depend on you animals to make more of me! I don’t know if you’ll eat me and poop my seeds in the right spot, or if you are going to till up this piece of land where my fruit dropped, or if you are going to forget about me and let me be and let me grow up in here. So Immona just take matters into my own hands and get this thing done.
Strawberry plants be hustling. Strawberry plants be bouncing. Strawberry plants be making more strawberry plants and be making many fruit, YO! WHY?! Because behind that juicy, sweet, tender facade, Strawberry be a Baller, get me? Strawberry do what it like, when it like and if you don’t handle Strawberry you’re going to be handled by Strawberry.
As we are.
In past years when Albion Strawberry try to be getting all bold and up in here we take our tools and get all bold back and cut. that. biz. out. We hack those Runners off, chuck ‘em away and tell Strawberry to sit down and get to work. And Strawberry do.
But this year? We are behind the 8-ball, again. And with low staff numbers and low market numbers and low CSA sales we make choices on how we will spend our labor hours. We gotta pay one way or the other. We didn’t handle Strawberry and cut. that. biz. out. Now, we are paying in few blossoms and many runners.
The plants look ama-ZING! Robust and arrogant, they are spreading their stolons like a group of bachelors in Vegas.
Less than 10% blossoms as of Wednesday.
Two weeks ago we planted a new set of crowns. They are well irrigated and with the drenching rain of a few weeks ago interspersed with our May Grey spells and surprise heat waves, they are Jamming like Roller Derby. No Runners. Yet.
How will it be with the first planting? Time will tell. We guide the lettuce, balancing the harvest at just the right moment while the leaves are still delicate and fresh, the plant is big enough to satisfy client demands, and before the next hot spell inclines them to bolt. We dominate the indomitable summer squash – at least that is what we tell ourselves. We quest cucumbers. The knocked down signs, the graffiti on the gate, the foxtails growing in The Grove – add that to the list too.
Are they all important? Do they all carry value? Do they all have worth?
How to rank the major concerns?
Relentless, this farming thing. Who be Running who?