Strawberries

I’m trying to restrain my hopefulness levels, but last week’s strawberry planting endeavors have me very excited.

When we moved to our new home at the end of March last year, one of the beds in the wheel-shaped garden next to the house was planted with strawberries. They were so overcrowded that the babies at the ends of the runners were sitting on top of other plants, and I worried the strawberry bed might not do well. So, with my mother-in-law’s help, I dug up about two-thirds of them and transplanted as much as we could fit into the next bed over (and gave away the rest to friends, thus sparing my conscience some pain). They seemed to adapt to their new space, but they didn’t produce as well as I’d hoped they would.

This year, that original bed was nearly as crowded as it had been last year. I decided to entirely renovate it. This time I paused to do a little research. I discovered that younger plants — the ones at the end of the runners that mature plants send out — are the ones that should be transplanted. They’re supposed to produce better than the older ones, which might be nearing the end of their productivity.

So I dug up the entire bed, lifting out all the plants and keeping them covered with burlap in a big feed container so they wouldn’t dry out. When I finished, Aaron tilled the bed for me, and then I used my handy bulb transplanter to make perfectly cylindrical holes. Niko helped me fill them with compost (a step I missed last year), and in went the babies. I’m hoping that the combination of fresh tilling, composting, and selecting the youngest plants will yield better results. I was a bit worried that they might have dried out too much while waiting for about a week for our family to recover from the flu between digging and transplanting, but now, a week after planting, they’re looking green and putting out new leaves.

But that wasn’t the end of the strawberry saga. Last year we discovered, via farmer’s markets and roadside stands, the most delicious strawberry: the Hood River strawberry. In the fall, in hopes of finding some to plant this spring, Aaron prepped two more wheel bed sections with mounds of compost covered in landscape fabric. And find some we did! We ordered them from a nearby company called One Green World and picked them up from their Plantmobile, and last weekend I planted those babies out, too.

Planting the new ones in the mounds Aaron had made was a little trickier than planting them without landscape fabric. I cut evenly spaced slits in the fabric, scrabbled around through the slits with a tiny spade to make a hole, and then attempted to place the babies into the holes. Their roots spread out, wormed upward, and made themselves into octopus-like tentacles that refused to stay put. Finally, I tried winding the delicate baby roots in a spiral around my fingers before fitting them into their small new homes. That effectively tamed them, and I was able to push the soil back over the roots without leaving any exposed. They’re looking green and perky now, putting out new leaves as they peep up above the fabric, so I think I did just fine.

The instruction sheet that came with our strawberries suggested waiting a full season before harvesting fruit, pinching off the blossoms all through the first summer. This helps the strawberries establish stronger roots. I thought that sounded like a terrible idea. Wait an entire year to enjoy fresh, juicy berries? I turned once again to my faithful friend, Google. Only one article I read mentioned waiting a year to harvest, and it was written by a nursery owner who said that she herself never does this even though it really is best. Who can resist the temptation of a crop of strawberries? Not her, and certainly not me. I haven’t that kind of fortitude. No, I have every intention of enjoying those strawberries as soon as possible.

The Only Good Slug Is a Dead Slug

Over the last few weeks I’ve been on a relentless crusade to eradicate slugs from our yard.

I should point out that typically I don’t enjoy killing anything. I’m filled with guilt when I swish a spider down a drain. I mourn when I find a mouse in a trap. I hesitate before flattening a fly. When I find stink bugs or moths inside, I take them outside and release them. Once upon a time, this reluctance to kill applied to slugs as well. They’re almost cute, with their dainty little horns. Their slow glide along the ground is nearly graceful as they prowl in search of food. And occasionally I’ll discover one with lovely bright colors — so close to being pretty. When we first moved to Oregon, living in a rental house with a small yard and no garden, I called Niko over to watch in amazement as a large orange-spotted slug devoured a blade of grass. I thought of them as harmless.

Sliming along a raised garden bed.
Sliming along a raised garden bed.

But now? Now I am filled with a deep passion of hatred for these destructive nibblers. Last year I saw slug-holes in my nasturtiums and basil, oregano and baby cucumbers, and I was sad. But this year, witnessing the chunks eaten out of the tops of hyacinth buds, new dwarf irises, and baby daffodils, I am enraged. Those slimy thieves are going down.

Slug-eaten iris. Last straw!
Slug-eaten iris. Last straw!

So, a couple of weeks ago, as you can read here, I set out both cornmeal and a honey-yeast mixture in jars throughout the garden, and waited.

The cornmeal was immediately effective. The slugs loved it. They didn’t seem to be immediately incapacitated by it, but they were distracted from the plants and easy to catch. The side of the jar acted as an umbrella, keeping the cornmeal dry — until we got a driving rain that splashed in. After that, it was less effective. My gardening New England aunt told me the cornmeal needs to be dry in order to catch the slugs, and the evidence in my garden certainly supports that. It seems that both water and slime from previous slugs renders the cornmeal an ineffective trap. I picked up some more cornmeal in the bulk section of the grocery store, both a coarse polenta/grits grind and a finer grind (I plan to mix them), so I’ll be making new traps soon.

Why does the cornmeal work? My knowledgeable aunt explained that, in order to move over the rough, dry cornmeal, the slugs have to produce more and more slime, so much so that they become dehydrated. Result: dead slugs.

At first, the yeast mixture was less successful. I followed the instructions in the article I’d read, boiling honey and yeast together, despite my worry that killing the yeast by boiling it would make it unattractive to the slugs. I was right. They weren’t interested in the least in the one jar I put out that first day. So, I sprinkled fresh yeast on top of the mixture that still filled the pitcher, and waited a day or so till it began to foam gently and smell pleasantly yeasty (it wouldn’t have taken so long if I’d had more yeast). I refilled the jar I’d set out and then placed more jars throughout the gardens. By the time I’d finished the last jar, the first jar already had its first prey. Victory. Next time I do this, I’ll add the yeast after the hot honey water has cooled, and add more than the small pinch I sprinkled in after the initial failed experiment — I was out of yeast when I refreshed the pitcher, but I now have a new jar.

The yeast and honey mixture works like a charm.
The yeast and honey mixture works like a charm.

Meanwhile, since my aunt told me to NEVER squish slugs in the garden for fear of releasing eggs into the soil, I’ve been carrying around a disgusting jar of salt water into which I drop any slug I encounter while weeding or planting or just strolling. It’s gross, but I don’t care. This is war.

Death to slugs. The only good slug is a dead slug!