Tuesday, June 9, 2009

One Strawberry Loving Squirrel

During Strawberry season, MrMartha is visited often by the world's most industrious Squirrel. The quirky rodent lives one lot over, in a stand of Maple trees that dip down close to the north side of the roof here.

The little fellow is very adept....he jumps from the trees down onto the roof, scampers across, navigates down to the deck via a trellis....and proceeds to select only the very nicest, absolutely perfectly ripe Strawberries in MrMartha's potted Strawberry patch. When the berries are at their apex, he visits several times a day, leaving behind his calling card -- the closely chewed hull and remnants of his berry of the moment.

He is absolutely fearless, and apparently has developed a taste for the luscious berries that rivals MrMartha's own passion for the delicious morsels. While store bought commercially grown strawberries have improved in quality and taste by leaps and bounds in recent years, there is still nothing that can compare to the perfection of homegrown, just picked, berries. One just has to be quicker than the Squirrel. MrMartha has eased the competition a bit by planting additional pots of the carefree and easy to grow plants, and remains glad that MrSquirrel has not seen fit to share his secret stash with a bunch of his bushy tailed buddies.

Growing strawberries in pots is simple, can be done on a deck, patio, side of the house or even an accommodating windowsill.

Read More for Details, Tips, and more photos.....

MrMartha has the potted berries growing on a west facing deck that gets good southern exposure and the afternoon sunshine. The pots range from 12" to 16", and have 4 to 6 plants per pot. Currently there are about seven assorted pots, planted with an everbearing variety of strawberry.

The yield repeats every couple weeks, and is enough for snacking straight off the plants, to create a nice dessert, have indulgent breakfast cereal -- and at the first and heaviest fruiting, make a batch of incomparable jam!

Different parts of the country do better with different varieties. Check with your local garden center for suggestions. MrMartha prefers varieties that produce berries on arching chandelier like stems, they stay out of the soil and look lovely lazily dripping over the edges of the pots. Two good varieties for the Northwest are Quinault and Nisqually.

The plants do well with minimal attention. Good basic potting soil, regular applications of liquid fertilizer, and snipping off the runners as they appear are really all that is needed. At the end of the season, allow some runners to grow and develop, tuck those into new pots, to increase your plant count. Strawberry plants do well for up to five seasons, depending on variety, and then start to decline....so if you get into the habit of starting some new plants each season, you will be able to discard older plants that have stopped producing as heavily, while still maintaining a good number of prime healthy plants.

One other secret -- MrMartha top dresses the pots regularly with a mulch of coffee grounds, scratching it into the first inch or so of the soil. The strawberries love a little acid and it helps to retain moisture in the soil, though it does nothing to discourage MrSquirrel!