It begins with our love, lust, passion for strawberries. This is a crop that does very well in our area. Stands along the roadsides have tables set up filled with plastic baskets of large, juicy, sweet red fruits. Pickup trucks in shopping center parking lots have their beds filled with boxes of the berries. There are several pick your own places out in the county. All of these are selling a mighty fine product. But there is nothing like the freshest of the fresh, warmed by the sun, juice running down your chin bite into the sweetness of fruit grown in your own garden. It is the most local of local, and don’t forget, Local Is The New Black.
When the veggie bed between the Arborvitae and Chamaecyparis hedges was built, the first crop planted was strawberries, six plants. The first year there were many berries eaten, by human and critter. The next year the plants had formed many runners, growing right on top of the landscape fabric lining the pathways. It was assumed that there would be plenty of berries for human and four leggeds once again. But it was not to be. Despite many flowers and fruits turning to the perfect stage of eating red, the rabbits, or turtles or whatever would devour the berries on the day I was going to pick them.
A new strategy was needed, for both the out of control runners and the critters not sharing as they should with the gardener. The taste of wild strawberries is legendary, the stuff of fairy tales where the young girls are required to find wild strawberries in winter. This fruit is said to be the sweetest taste on Earth. We have wild strawberries here at the Fairegarden. We are awash in them, but upon tasting, well let us just say they were what we like to call spitters. Blechhhh. The legends must be about a different species than the plant that grows here with abandon.
Moving ever onward, in the winter of 2009/2010, while perusing the lovely, high quality paper and photos seed catalog of Baker Creek, there were on offer seeds of wild alpine strawberries, Fragaria vesca ‘Red Wonder’. (Click here to read the tempting description.) These were added to the seed order immediately. The seeds arrived, the packet studied and more germination research was done online to be sure and get it right. Two weeks in the fridge, the tiny seeds were then sprinkled on top of moist seed starting mix in a four inch pot, then topped with a light dressing of fine sand. Germination was good and resulted in a small pot of baby strawberry plants. These were grown on in the greenhouse until the weather permitted planting outside in the veggie bed. The plants were tiny, but spaced six inches apart. An old palette went over them, then reinforcing wire on top of that. The little plants grew well, some even flowered that first year, but no berries were produced. (Above photo taken right after planting out, April 14, 2010.)
The tale has now arrived to spring 2011. A plastic rabbit fence has been erected around the Red Wonder plants, which do not produce runners, a huge selling point. They can be divided after a few years, the sources said. But before that happens, we must taste the product.
A few of the runner strawberry plants were brought inside this safe house as well, just to make sure there would be a few fruits for human consumption. These plants grow too fast to be kept in the small protected space without constantly dealing with the offsets, but the fruit is good tasting, if not the best ever. They are just for back up. If the Red Wonders live up to the hype, the end part of the veggie bed will be filled with divided plants for low maintenance deliciousness. (Note the red seeds.)
There even was a white fruited plant, Fragaria vesca ‘White Delight’ purchased from Annie’s Annuals, said to be safe from birds who peck the red fruits. (Click here to see that description.) Yet more research led to complaints by some that one could not tell when the berries were ripe, since color is the leading indicator of that status. Hmmmm. Perhaps size will let us know when to give them a taste.
Back to Red Wonder, several have been consumed. They are different from their larger kin, sweeter, yes. The elongated smaller fruits are almost like candy, the seeds offering a slight crunch. Greedily we search for the reddest ones, popping them right into our mouths as we crouch inside the narrow fenced space. There is not the juiciness of the runner types, but the textural sensation is pleasing, once our taste buds know what to expect. Yes to these. The plants will be divided and replanted in the wire covered end of the veggie bed for a permanent planting. I hereby give Fragaria vesca ‘Red Wonder’, the wild cultivated Strawberry my highest endorsement!