Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gardening: Leafy Gluttony - Alpine Strawberries

Photograph of alpine strawberries.
I don't grow food to save money. That's partly about skill - I'm not skilled enough to get a substantial harvest. And it's partly about space and sunlight. And largely about laziness. I'm just not prepared to work hard enough to maximize pounds of potato, or ears of corn, or cubic feet of pumpkin, harvested from my few sunny areas.

So, why grow food at all? Largely because it's fun - I started my gardening career with vegetables, and it took me a long time to care about ornamentals. But I need more of a reason, more of a goal. That goal is to produce taste experiences that I just can't get from the grocery. And, well, to produce them lazily.

One of the first candidates for this goal was strawberries, and we've grown them rather lackadaisically a few times. I've never tasted a strawberry from a grocery, restaurant, or any other source, that compared in taste with dead ripe strawberries harvested from the garden. This is, I think, no great surprise and no testament to our skill. When a fragile fruit doesn't need to travel more than the five feet from the ground to my mouth, it's possible to grow very delicate varieties, and to harvest them at a level of ripeness impossible for a grocery strawberry.

But there's a catch: Strawberries take work. Weeding. Watering. Mulching. Nipping off the fruits the first year. Dividing the plants the third or fourth year. A second bed to grow out of sequence so that there's something to eat during the years that you're nipping and dividing. Fighting off snails and slugs and birds and probably raccoons. And they occupy generous amounts of dedicated, prime, plush, sunny bed space.

So we evicted the strawberries and planted their bed with culinary herbs. And then we missed them.

This year, I have a new theory: alpine strawberries. Rumor has it that these smaller strawberries can grow in the empty spaces in a flowerbed, instead of hogging dedicated space. Other rumors claim that they're better than ordinary strawberries, even those miraculous home-grown ordinary strawberries. The harvest is supposed to be small, but that's fine - the goal is an occasional bonus bite of something miraculous, while I'm puttering in the garden.

Photo: By James McNally. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I have had pretty good luck with strawberries i think because i grow the everbearing and I just leave them be. they come up year after year and i just add a few new plants each year. this last year was a sad strawberry season because I moved, and had to leave all my plants behind. i assume they did for the new owners what they did for me... just all of a sudden start throwing off blossoms and creeping legs looking for new growing spaces.

    we planted strawberries when i was a teen, and also just let them be and every spring our dog would come into the house with strawberry breath, and we would remember the plants. of course then it was too late.

  2. I didn't know that dogs liked strawberries. I'm sorry that you had to leave your plants behind. :(

    We might have more strawberries now if we'd patiently waited, but we broke down and put in the herbs. Which are useful all year anyway. And we've still got the raspberries.