Strawberries on the move
Graham R. Cooper
It seemed a good idea at the time. The couple of pigs we had back then had ploughed the soil, rooted out the tasty couch grass (otherwise know as twitch), and fertilised the area with their dung.
That was five years ago, after deciding: “No more pigs!” So the insulated pig house became our cool store, and in their fenced-off yard we planted a Sturmer apple tree, a Winter Nell pear, a cherry tree, and strawberry plants.
Our best strawberry crops were always the ones fertilised with pig manure. Those two pigs had fertilised the area, aerated, dug over, and rendered the soil weed free. All we needed now was a raised bed to provide warmer, freer draining soils.
I didn’t have any solid planks, and so how convenient was that? A double bed we no longer had a use for (from foam rubber mattress days), with a foot high wood-frame base. The timber was untreated and only an inch thick, so I gave it a liberal coating of creosote and old oil.
I figured that some nasties might leach out and get into the roots or leaves, but wouldn’t get as far as the fruit. A tad precious? Certainly not scientific!
Pegged down, filled with fertile soil and three strawberry plant varieties (bought at some exorbitant price) – we were good to go.
Not that this was our first foray into strawberries – far from it. We’ve been growing them for over forty years. In fact, we established four large raised beds, liberally fertilised with pig manure, within a year of moving to Little Owl Gully.
For several years there, we had a glut, and the local college (where I worked part-time), would put in an order for the end of year staff morning tea. There was disappointment when we stopped supplying them – they had to go back to bland tasting commercially grown ones.
Those strawberry beds went when we turned a big area close to the house into a relaxing place to sit and while away a pleasant hour or two. It now has rose borders, shingled pathways, a three-person swing seat, barbecue, and a large picnic table and sun umbrella.
For the last ten years, we’ve been growing strawberries in a raised bed just to the right of the back door. And we’ve persevered with the additional bed, in what used to be the pig yard, for the last five years.
Persevered, but now we’ve conceded defeat: the bed is riddled with couch grass. The strawberry plants starved of nutrients, air flow and sunlight. It’s got back into the area from the surrounding paddocks. The roots move horizontally just below, and then on the surface of the soil when they go under the black plastic covered path surrounding the bed: a myriad root runners with their surprisingly sharp tips.
We’d enjoyed the bountiful supply of fruit provided by the two beds. All those summer breakfasts with a liberal sprinkling of strawberries on top, or served as a dessert with homemade ice cream – always plenty leftover for jam.
Not prepared to cut back on such pleasurable food treats, we decided to move the bed to the couch-free main vegetable garden. The planks had a lot of rot in them, and it was more good luck than anything that the frame held together while we carried it some distance to its new resting place.
Being a long way from the house had been another downside – out of sight, out of mind. More pressing undertakings would often take precedent, and the couch, unopposed for long enough, infiltrated and sabotaged “the best laid plans of mice and men”.
I do remember, though, when “best laid plans” turned out well for the mice; it was during the time of the four raised beds. One season we had a big crop of luscious red strawberries that appeared to have mutated and turned into a seedless variety.
We’ll use the all encompassing and suitably wordy “everything else that was going on in our lives at the time” excuse to explain why it was weeks before we discovered what was going on. Mice nests in the corners of the beds – they were ever so daintily eating the seeds that coat the strawberries, leaving the flesh intact but seedless!
Best laid plans? Keep out the mice and the couch grass! The new bed’s now full of couch-free soil, goat and cow manure, compost and, of course, pig dung; those big raised beds sure swallow-up a heap of barrow loads!
It just remains to transplant the winter dormant plants. Strawberries on the move to a new home close to the house where we can keep an eye on them and ensure they stay mice and weed free.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.