Indiana is crazy at this time of year with berry picking. A popular tradition in families, especially with young children is to load up the troops and head to the "U-pick" strawberry farms. Then it's strawberry shortcake, bowls of berries and little red fingerprints everywhere.
In addition to writing and cooking, I happen to be the person in charge of the Hamilton County "Strawberry Project" for 4-H. This is a county project (meaning it doesn't go all the way to the state fair) that is loads of fun. My younger son, Malcolm has participated for many years and is at work again this year on a beautiful berry jar.
When he was about 4, my garden was half the size it is now, but I allowed each of my kiddos to choose a bed to call their own. We planted each with whatever they wanted and the littlest guy said, "Strawberries." Our obsession was born.
Strawberries can easily be grown in pots, but if you can devote a little patch of ground, they will come back each year, producing a bit more annually for about 5 years. In order to grow the biggest and most flavorful berries, give plants plenty of rich, fertilized soil. They also like soft soil, so if yours is dense or filled with clay, be sure to mix some compost into the bed before planting. Oh, and make certain you've chosen a sunny spot. Strawberries love the warmth.
There obviously are TONS of places to buy starter plants where you live, but as always, I encourage you to consider seeking out seeds of interesting varieties. I'd really suggest you take a minute to google "Alpine Strawberries." They tend to be smallish but they are incredibly sweet and really productive.
Some great seed sources:
Pro Tip: You might've noticed in the photo above that my berries are planted with borage and chives. These are companion plants. They work symbiotically to replace vitamins that the others deplete and they also work against pests for one another. Sprinkle some seeds in your berry patch and see what you think.
A fine breakfast:
fresh berries, tart greek yogurt and
a little honey from our hives.
Sweetie's Strawberry Freezer jelly
This is a delicious and easy jam that was present every summer of my childhood. When Sweetie (my mom!) makes it now, it is allocated and sometimes hidden from the children!
What You Need
Disclaimer! According to Sweetie, her big hit is simply the recipe on the Sure-Jell pectin box. It's so good, I'm sharing it anyway. Thanks, Sure-Jell!
When I'm not at the computer working, my happy place is my garden. I love my kitchen, too but the garden noses ahead as far as an oasis of relaxing, mind-clearing bliss. This week, I was pulling weeds (suck) and dead-heading marigolds. I had a fleeting memory of sitting with my mother as a child and having her explain how to pull the flower apart and expose the seeds. I remember the afternoon, where we were sitting and the that my fascination with plants was born.
The sights and smells in a garden evoke memories for me. I have some very old-fashioned peach iris that came from my ex-husband's grandmother. She is long gone, but was a kind lady who I remember fondly and am reminded of when they bloom. My own Grandmother LOVED roses. In the summers of my youth, I'd help her tend her pretty rose garden (mostly red roses) at her at her little house in Shelbyville, Indiana. The smell of roses makes me think of her and easy days with no schedule.
My bestie had a dogwood tree on the side of her house that grew gorgeous flowers every spring. I saw one at the nursery and snapped it up. My Uncle Reese had an amazing, formal boxwood garden and the smell of them in the warm sun make me think of him and the masterpiece of a backyard he had. I grow Cherokee Purple tomatoes because my Great Aunt Georgia lived on Cherokee Parkway. Somehow, planting for happiness and nostalgia has become so therapeutic for me. Instant Zen.
I encourage you to add "memories" to your garden. We all know that playing in the dirt is known to bring calm, but customizing the experience with plantings that have personal meaning is such a tribute. Enjoy these warm days in your garden and add some personal history.
This little verse resided in my Uncle Reese's garden in Lexington, Kentucky so long ago.
I believe my mother has the original but this is a great copy. LOVE, it.
(credit: Dorothy Frances Gurney, poet.)
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.