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Strawberry Patch – Growing, Harvesting, and Enjoying Strawberries!

I have two fond childhood memories of strawberries: one of walking through a family friend’s strawberry patch and wanting nothing more than to pick the berries and gobble them all up. We lived in the desert so the plants were small and had few berries… maybe that’s why I was a good girl and didn’t eat all of those berries? Nah, it was probably the fear of my mother wrath if I got caught!

The other memory is of my “grandpa” neighbor. He wasn’t really my grandpa, but a friendly neighbor who would let me eat all of the strawberries that grew on our side of the fence. He caught me looking longingly at his strawberries one day and told me (in a mock grumpy voice) “you had better eat every single strawberry that grows on your side of the fence”! He was a very kind man, and I’ll always remember him and his wife (who always seemed to be doing dishes with her yellow rubber gloves).

When I grew up and had a garden of my own, I, of course, planted strawberries. I wanted my kids to have a yard full of berries so they could eat them to their heart’s content. Fortunately for me, I moved to Denver, and strawberries grow really (REALLY) well here. My patch quickly outgrew the backyard garden, so my hubby was kind enough to let me dig up a good chunk of the in the front lawn to let the berries grow (Ok, Ok, he did the digging). Now, my 6 original strawberry plants have filled a garden that is about 20 x 5 feet.

Needless to say, we have a lot of berries! Here’s how I tend my strawberry patch, and how I enjoy the berries (along with some memories that my kiddos might look back on with fondness some day):

Tending Your Strawberry Garden

I’m not by any means an expert gardener and freely admit that the success of my strawberry patch is due to the Denver climate. I also did some research when we first planted the garden (thanks to my local library!) and learned how deep to plant, and how to ensure continued health of the patch  such as taking care of the daughter plants (like thinning them out and gifting to friends so they can grow their own strawberry gardens).

Here’s an in-depth article that outlines… well everything you could think of regarding growing lots of yummy strawberries… including tips and basic information for.

strawberry plant Illustration

Image Credit Bonnie Plants

What the books didn’t teach me, and I had to figure out for myself, was how to deal with the biggest garden pest in town — those dang squirrels! While nothing short of exterminating all squirrels* will be a perfect solution, I’ve found the following to be a HUGE help.

  1. Grow enough to share. My large patch produces enough berries for my family, my friends, and the squirrels and birds.
  2. Plant pinwheels! I snag up a few dozen metallic pinwheels from the dollar store each year, attach them to a dowel, and place them all over the garden. The shiny pinwheels scare squirrels and birds, and you get to enjoy a garden of pinwheels!
  3. Container planting. Strawberries grow really well in containers, and you can keep the containers on the porch where the squirrels are not as likely to venture.
  4. Get a cat. My cat is my garden buddy. He runs all over the garden and chases away squirrels, mice, birds, and other pests that might trespass on “his” garden.
  5. Fencing and nets. I tried them both, but they didn’t work for me. Fencing is great to keep the dogs out, but not the squirrels or birds (unless you go all out and have a fenced roof!). The netting seemed to help, but I didn’t like moving it all the time in order to harvest from the garden.
  6. Relocating. I haven’t done it yet, but many of my friends have had great success with simply relocating squirrels a few miles from where they were caught. From my understanding, you may have to relocate them every few years once new squirrels move in.

*No, I’m not really advocating for eliminating all squirrels and normally I love little critters!  But when it’s garden season, I’m not a big squirrel advocate… leave my garden alone you darn squirrel!

10 Treats from a Strawberry Garden

1: Strawberries—Share the Bounty!

I love giving away strawberries! Cleaning them, cutting them, and tending to such a large patch can be quite a bit of work. But, when you walk over to your neighbors with a bushel full of strawberries… you’ve not only managed to get out of cleaning them, but you get to see the look of delight as your neighbors gobble up the yummy treats! When my kids were younger all of the neighborhood kids would also come over to hunt for berries. We had one little girl, Daisy, who would always come over looking for the first berry of the season. She was so cute!

Yes, strawberries should be shared. They are simply too good to keep to yourself.

2: Strawberry Jam

Strawberry jam is my favorite use of all of the lovely berries because it means I can enjoy them year round, especially in the winter time when all I can think of is “how soon is summer!?!” My recipe isn’t anything fancy, in fact, it’s just the “low sugar” recipe from Ball. My strawberries are quite sweet, and I highly recommend that you omit any added sugars whenever possible.

  • 3 1/4 cups crushed strawberries (about three 1-lb containers)
  • 3 Tbsp Pectin
  • 1/2 tsp butter or margarine (I never add the butter!)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (if the berries are extra sweet, I reduce this to 1 ½ cups)

Bonus tip: If you don’t want to make your jam right away, store your berries UNWASHED in the frig with a paper towel to keep them fresh. I simply place a paper towel in the bottom of a jar or ziplock bag and pop the berries in (being sure not to over pack and smash the berries). My berries stay fresh for just over a week this way.

Strawberry jam recipe

3: Strawberry Ice Cream and Pancake Topping

I actually discovered this by accident one year. I had so many strawberries that I was doing a mass canning weekend extravaganza. So of course, I added too many berries to a batch of jam. Luckily I was able to determine exactly what when wrong and knew that I had doubled the berries in that batch.

Turns out that slightly runny strawberry jam is the PERFECT topping for ice cream and pancakes. This little accident has turned into a yearly must-have in my house. I make sure to double the number of berries in one batch of jam each year so we can have a lovely strawberry treat on a hot summer day.

4: Frozen Treats

Speaking of summer days… The only problem with growing your own strawberries is that the harvest only lasts a few weeks! Making jam can be a lot of work (and gosh, we just picked all those berries, now more work?) but freezing them is a snap. You also end up with some yummy berries for even more delicious summer treats.

To freeze strawberries:

  1. Wash and hull the berries
  2. Cut the berries into quarters
  3. Place one layer of berries on a sheet of freezer paper (only one layer deep) and place in the freezer until frozen through
  4. Store them in freezer bags until use (about 3 months in a ziplock back, and if you have one of those snazzy foodsaver units to suck the air out of the bag, they will last up to a year — thanks mom!)

Now, you can whizz the berries into popsicles, sherbet, or lemon aids, or more! I’ve saved a bunch of recipes on my Strawberry board on Pinterest.

5: Strawberry Mojitos

This is one of my favorite “grown up” strawberry treats, and has an added bonus of using mint from the garden. I’m pretty horrible about always following a recipe (I tend to just toss the ingredients into the blender) but here’s the original recipe I used:

  • 3 cups chopped strawberries (stems removed, about 1 pound)
  • about 3 Tablespoons simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water,)
  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup citrus rum
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups ice

Simply put everything into the blender, and blend! I find that the frozen berries are best for these. If you want a non-alcoholic version, just omit the rum.

strawberry-mojito-slushies-the-little-kitchen-9068

6: Strawberry Leaf Tea

Strawberry leaf tea

 

Recently I realized that the strawberry patch was full of more than just berries… the leaves are actually amazing too! They can (apparently) help burn stored fat, are high in fiber, help improve mental performance, reduce inflammation, and more.

  1. Health Benefits of Strawberry Leaves livestrong.com
  2. Health Benefits of Wild Strawberry Leaf Tea HealWithFood.org

It’s important to note that strawberry leaves can only be consumed either right after picking, or after fully dried. From my reading, the best way to consume them is to make a tea. You can either pour hot water over fresh leaves or dry the leaves for making tea. I dried mine, and it is simply delicious!

I also brewed some up with mint from the garden. A definite keeper. Very fruity and refreshing, and great served over ice.

7: Sweet Strawberry Tea and Strawberry Lemonade

Another refreshing strawberry treat is a tall glass of  sun brewed tea, sweetened with some fresh (or frozen) berries. It’s similar to a strawberry lemonade, but not as sweet.

To make the sun tea:

  • Place 8 ounces of sun tea in your blender
  • Add 4-5 berries
  • Blend, and pour over ice

To make a strawberry lemonade:

  • Place 8 ounces of lemonade in your blender
  • Add 4-5 berries
  • Blend, and pour over ice

You can, of course, add extra sweetener if you like.

8: Strawberries Dipped in Chocolate – Fondue Night!

And what could be sweeter than chocolate covered strawberries? Not much!  Strawberries don’t keep very well once covered in chocolate, so I opt for a fondue party. My youngest begged me for years to have chocolate fondue for dinner, and I finally caved. Yes, chocolate for dinner actually happened!

I melted the chocolate in the fondue pot and served up strawberries, bananas, almonds, and some homemade pretzels (and made sure that we had a nice healthy “late lunch” earlier in the day).

9: Strawberry Soap

strawberry tea soap - handmade soap

You didn’t really think I could go this long without soaping the strawberries, did you? Or course not! I’m a proud soap addict and recently made a lovely bar of  strawberry tea soap. A new limited edition batch will be available each year!

10: Gobble them up fresh from the garden

Better than mojito’s, jam, or teas, is having a bowl of fresh berries on the counter during strawberry season. I cherish the memories of bringing in a bowl of strawberries from the garden and having a fresh and healthy treat for the family that tastes better than any candy or processed snack in the world.

Every year when I’m munching on (or picking!) strawberries, I remember the neighborhood kids “stealing” berries from the front yard, my youngest begging for chocolate fondue, all of the days spent on the back porch with my kids helping to clean and hull berries for jam, my eldest coming over to help harvest and bringing strawberries to her home, and the “mmmm mmmm mmmm so good” that everyone exclaims as they taste their first berry of the season.

I hope these little strawberry tidbits help you enjoy your strawberry patch as much as I enjoy mine. And, iIf you have a strawberry memory, tip, or treat to share, please post a comment. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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