Sunday, September 6, 2015

Strawberry fields for this summer

We are backyard gardeners. For almost ten years, we've always had some measure of produce growing in a plot in our yard, enjoying vine ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, radishes, banana peppers, carrots, green onions, summer squash, zucchini, and butternut squash on occasion.

A few years ago, we planted a blackberry bush and a raspberry bush, harvesting fruit a few times, too.

In Massachusetts, it was a small plot just off of the driveway in the side yard.

In Ohio, we hired some young men to put in a good sized bed just behind the house, next to the deck.

In Arkansas, we had a garden included in the backyard landscaping done not long after we moved in.

Through all of these iterations of our suburban farming efforts, the array of vegetables as well as flowers thrown in have been an alternating source of enjoyment and frustration.

Surprisingly, Arkansas has been the most challenging of all of our backyard gardens. One might think that moving south to the land of sunshine and warmth would encourage abundant growth and overflowing harvests. What we've found, though, is that beyond the lack of rain from the years of drought since we moved here, there is a strange white, powdery fungus that attacks our plants each year. It creeps into the big, beautiful elephantine leaves of the zucchini and squash, slowly wilting and diminishing them until they no longer bear fruit. It attacks the leaves of the cucumber plant, and we watch the leaves and then the stems wither and die, cutting off our fresh cucumber supply halfway through the summer.

At the end of last year, after battling the white powder most of the latter half of the summer, we decided we would cut way back on the variety we planted and just enjoy the sunflowers that seem to thrive under any conditions. With the available space, I decided the summer of 2015 would be my opportunity to knock another item off of my life list: grow strawberries in my garden.

I don't profess to be a true backyard farmer or, really, anything other than an occasional enthusiast depending on how much else I have going on at the time. I'm not a seedling-starter or an heirloom plant kind of person; for the strawberry effort, we just bought them straight off the shelf at Lowe's and brought them home.

The first month or so was promising; the netting kept the birds off of the plants, the leaves turned green and seemed to thrive, and we even got a few fruits off of the plants. As the summer has progressed, the plants continue to grow, sending runners out just as I expected they would. Sadly, though, this has been the extent of the fruit born by the three plants in the garden. Given the lack of attention we've paid to them with the exception of ensuring they're watered, I guess the effort has pretty much met my expectations.
As the owner of the list, I have the privilege of deciding when I've met the criteria of an item and can cross it off. In this instance, I think I've made the effort and realized, I'm not really that into growing things that take anything other than benign neglect. Tomatoes are more my ability level - after years of growing them, I've decided they're basically weeds that thrive in the most god-awful hot and humid weather you can imagine.

So this counts for me, and I'm crossing it off the list. The fungus fight continues, and next year, I may replace the strawberries with more sunflowers, morning glories, and hollyhocks. I enjoyed the idea of growing fruit, possibly inspired by one of my favorite childhood books, Strawberry Girl, but from now on, I'll plan on buying my Driscoll's at the grocery store.

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