Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Year of the Strawberry.....and the Earwig.

Jewel. I think Jewel is why there are paintings and needlework arts with strawberries. Ain't they pretty?
Before we had a roof over our heads here on the farm, we could come camp out in our tent and work the land, build the buildings and look out at our mountains. Tent living was fun but I'm glad we have 4 solid walls and a roof now; and so are the dogs. One of the first nights we spent in our tent was rather comical. I was jumpy and a little nervous. Our nutty neighbor decided to tell us there were wolves about. I think I must have 'gullible' written on my forehead. It very well might be that there are wolves about, but they aren't about where we are. Coyotes yes and earwigs, definitely earwigs. So here I am, jumpy and I go to pick my pillow up off the mattress inside the tent and an earwig scrambles away and up the side wall. I screamed: "It's an earwig!" and have yet, three years later, to live it down. My husband has a very good memory. And I have a very good 'dirty look' just for him.
Add a little salt, Splenda and sugar to heighten the flavor and still get juice.
Earwigs are not my favorite thing. They pinch. They are everywhere when they are 'hatching' and they seem to not understand that floating around in your water bottle is just going to get them killed, or hiding under the lid of the food containers on the kitchen island, or hiding under the upside-down pie plate or scurrying around inside the basket of fresh picked strawberries. Or, or, or. They are everywhere right now and I guess I'll just have to get used to that. Every year there's a bumper crop of something and this year it's strawberries and earwigs.

A very unhealthy homemade shortcake - delicious of course.

We have around 200 strawberry plants: Jewel, Honeye, Sparkle and Ozark Beauty. At this point we are eating strawberries every day and loving it. We made two batches of jam, froze some plain, froze some with Splenda, ate some in the morning, ate some as a side for lunch and ate some with shortcake for dinner. Last year we harvested perhaps a handful of berries due to our lack of thorough weeding and the ever-present slug problem that comes with living in a damp area. So no, I am not yet sick of strawberries, only grateful for the harvest. Hardships make for a grateful heart don't they?

Going to a U-pick and picking strawberries is much different from growing them yourself. I never knew that factors such as sunlight, heat and slugs would play in to when we pick them.  After a couple weeks I began to develop my own routine, so much so that my husband wasn't sure how to help me the first time I asked for help picking them. I make just about everything I do 'my own' but I never realized how that can be a problem for others. Note to self: SHARE the picking of the strawberries!
My red gingham top and strawberries in a basket; I had to capture that shot!
I enjoy squishing these guys; although I have to use a rock or my shoe. Ew.
Here's what my routine for picking ended up looking like. Wake up in the morning and after breakfast check the ripeness of the berries. Kill all slugs seen. Even if they are only feeding on grass they will find that perfectly ripe berry and wrap their slimy bodies around it, gnawing at it with their wet maws. No slug I see lives- period. Ok so once I checked the day's ripeness I could gauge if picking should be done that evening or wait until maybe the following morning.

Berries in the morning that have a little bit of white on the bottom or are more orange than red, can be left on the plants because they would have all day to ripen and the slugs are hiding during the day, so the need to pick berries that are close to ripe is less great. Once the evening comes, however, the picking has to happen in earnest or we lose more to slugs because we allow them to ripen a bit more. My newest gauge for whether or not to pick a berry is 'Would a slug eat this?' again, especially in the evening.

This one won't be ready for about 12 hours or so.
Jams for the Market!
Well now the strawberries are winding down and we are looking forward to the spring raspberry harvest. This will be the first season our transplanted raspberries have a spring harvest, last year they were still recovering from being transplanted. In the meantime I have started cleaning out our freezer of last year's berries (raspberries, chokecherries, currants, blackberries and black raspberries), making jams for the market and making room for this year's harvest. My husband will make some wine with the berries too and hopefully we will have some leftover to enjoy our berries well into winter. Grow well and enjoy the fruits of your labor because that's why we do this thing called farming!