Kitchen Garden Seeds

Guilty Pleasures: Homegrown Strawberries

There are few garden moments more anticipated than when the Strawberries are ready for picking. Time seems to stand still, save for the happy bumbling of ecstatic bees, as the most lusciously plump, fragrant and sweet Strawberry is selected to be the first. If you're lucky, the Strawberry will announce its perfection with a consummate plucking sound, a palpable vibration, as it separates from its stem. Your eyes will close as you pop that first berry into your mouth, so you can savor fully the explosion of juicy, essence-of-Strawberry sweetness. Its sheer goodness overtakes and fills the world in that moment.

Homegrown Strawberries are bonafied superheros rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial blood sugar regulation. Low in carbohydrates and calories, Strawberries are high in Vitamins C and K, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium and B-complex Vitamins B-6, folate, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. What more could you ever ask of a little berry?

Fresca, Alpine or Both?
Wild woodland Strawberries date back into antiquity. The Strawberry has been a symbol of Venus, revered for its medicinal properties, and used in religious artistry to symbolize flawless goodness and piety. After centuries of wild Strawberries being grown in French gardens, the first real garden Strawberry was bred in France in the 1750s by crossing Fragaria virginiana, from eastern North America, and Fragaria chiloensis, from Chile. Only certain varieties of Strawberries can be grown from seed, and we carry the best hardy perennial varieties.

The Fresca Strawberry is the only one known to produce traditional, full-sized berries from seed. Bred in the U.S. by one of the leading seed houses, ever-bearing ruby-red Fresca is luscious, juicy and sweet. Runnerless, it produces delicious, firm, fragrant red berries early and long~all summer long, in fact.

Alpine Strawberries, Fraises des Bois, are smaller, elongated Strawberry cousins. Easier to grow and often considered to be the sweetest of all, Red Wonder and Yellow Wonder reproduce and spread by seed, rather than runners. They perpetually bear fruit through the summer as long as they're watered regularly in times of low rainfall. Growing 6-8 inches tall, they're perfect in garden borders or as an edible ground cover. Yellow Wonder does not attract birds!

Easy to Grow at Home
Growing Strawberries from seed in your own backyard is easy with a good head start indoors. For a first year crop, start seeds up to 16 weeks before your last frost date. Seeds sown eight to 12 weeks in advance will produce berries the second year. Refer to our Seed Starting Schedule. In individual pots or flats filled with good soilless seed starting mix, sow seed very shallowly: light aids germination. Pamper the seedlings with strong light, good air circulation, even moisture and 55-65 degree F temperatures: over 70 degrees prevents germination. Cover with plastic wrap for even moisture until the seedlings emerge, then remove. Grow seedlings cool at 60-62 degrees.

After all danger of frost has passed, harden off the seedlings by gradually acclimating them to outdoor temperatures and light for seven to 10 days. (To find the Frost-Free Date for your garden, go HERE and use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chart. Select your State from the pull down menu and the select the local NOAA data collection site closest to your garden from the PDF file.)

Strawberries must have a bed with at least eight hours of full, direct sunlight. Transplant the hardened seedlings into fertile, well-draining, neutral to slightly acidic soil (about 5.5 to 6.5 pH), to which compost, well-rotted manure and/or slow-release organic fertilizer have been added. To avoid verticillium wilt, don't plant seedlings in sites where Raspberries, Strawberries, or solanaceous plants (Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants) have been grown within three years. Set the seedlings well: cover the roots well with soil, but keep the central growing crown exposed to light and fresh air. Space the seedlings 12 inches apart in rows 24-30 inches apart. Water plant bases amply and consistently, and apply a 2 inch layer of straw mulch to conserve moisture, deter weeds, keep fruit clean, and prevent mature fruit from rotting. Avoid watering the leaves to prevent disease.

Lightweight "floating" fabric row covers may be placed over the seedlings to provide early frost protection and create a greenhouse effect to help the plants bloom and fruit earlier. Remove row covers as soon as blooms appear so bees can visit and pollinate. Protect your prized berries from gluttonous, sweet-toothed birds with bird netting.

Strawberry plants can also be planted in Strawberry pots, window boxes, hanging baskets or terrace containers, the bigger the better, at least 10-12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. Use a loose, loamy potting mix that holds water. Space the plants about 6 inches apart. For example, a 12-inch diameter hanging basket can hold three to five plants. Strawberry pots need one plant per hole. Containerized Strawberries need at least 8 hours of sunlight and consistent watering for best berry formation and yield. In cold climates, they must be moved to a protected, unheated spot over the winter like a garage or cellar.

Ripe Strawberries are best picked every other day, in the morning, when they're unstressed and cool, with their caps intact. Only pick ripe berries because they don't continue to ripen once picked. For the best taste, texture and shelf life, do not wash or hull them until you're ready to eat or use them. We have our way with them for two days after picking: freeze extras whole and unwashed in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, keep frozen in an airtight plastic bag until use.

How do we eat them? Let us count the ways.
We adore Strawberries plain, splashed with cream and fine-grained caster sugar (Dutch basterd sucre), sliced and sprinkled with caster sugar on buttered bread or Dutch beschuit (crisp-baked rusks), in smoothies, dipped in chocolate, and incorporated into early summer fruit salads. Pastries of all sorts are better graced with glistening Strawberries. Historically, fresh Strawberries have been exalted in Strawberry Pavlova, Strawberry Charlotte and Strawberries Romanov.

We've been on a mission to find ways to preserve our seasonal harvest for year round indulgence. Some of our favorite recipes (all posted at www.kitchengardenseeds.com) include: Karen's Strawberry Salad, Yogurt Hang-Up with Strawberries, Molten Ginger-Lemon Cakes with Strawberries, Strawberry Yogurt Mousse, Strawberry Puree and Strawberry Simple Syrup. Our favorite is Alice's Strawberry Topping: it transforms our freezer into a ruby treasure chest so we can dress up cheesecake, ice cream and pound cake all winter long. It makes the best Strawberry shortcake ever~whenever you crave it. Yet our first culinary mission is always Strawberry jam. The first batch is 'plain', the second with lemon, and the third with our coveted, zesty Homemade Stem Ginger. Life is better with an ample larder of Strawberry jam.