Have you noticed that those big, bright, beautiful strawberries at the grocery store stop being so impressive when you bite into them? Here’s why, and it’s all the more reason to grow strawberries yourself!
NPR recently spoke to horticulture professor Marvin Pritts about why store-bought strawberries are just so…blah. Here are a couple of excerpts from what Pritts had to say:
…we’ve taken strawberries from each the decades, for the last hundred years, and planted them in a common field and then evaluated them and see what has changed. And we’ve seen that size has increased. We’ve seen that yield has increased. We’ve seen that firmness has increased. But we’ve seen that sugar content and flavor has somewhat decreased….
…a strawberry that’s not quite fully red will turn red even just sitting on the shelf. And that’s why the color is sometimes deceiving – it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fully ripe and fully flavorful.
Basically, those strawberries on the store shelf were picked before they were ripe and shipped quite a ways before making it to your door. What do you want to bet that those bland berries aren’t as nutritious as their heirloom brothers and sisters, to boot? Add to that all of the chemical fertilizers sprayed on conventional strawberries, and growing your own starts to look pretty sweet.
Flavorful berries start with good quality seeds or plants. This looks like a good resource for finding heirloom strawberry seeds or plants – just look for a retailer that offers heirloom varieties and make sure that you choose strawberries that thrive in your climate zone. Here’s a handy tool to find your gardening zone by zip code.
Strawberries generally do best in full sun, and you can grow strawberries either in the ground or in a container – a regular pot or a strawberry pot will work fine. That means that even if you only have a sunny balcony to work with, you can still grow your own strawberries. If you’re potting your strawberries, use a good quality organic potting soil. Whether you’re planting in a pot or in the ground you’ll want to amend the soil with some organic compost and use an organic fertilizer to feed your strawberry plants. Most strawberry plants will fruit twice over the summer – once in June and once around August. Once you harvest that first round of fruit, don’t forget to fertilize again.
You can harvest from your plants during the first year, but if you can wait, you want to trim the flowers off during year one to help the plant get established. By putting off flowering you’ll encourage the plant to grow strong roots and to put out runners so you’ll end up with more fruit down the line.
The strawberries you grow in the garden won’t be the giant, picturesque berries that you’re used to seeing at the store. Homegrown strawberries tend to be pretty small – maybe like the size of your first thumb joint – but what they lack in size they make up for in sweet, strawberry flavor.
If you don’t want to grow strawberries yourself, you can also hit up your local farmers market or join a CSA to make sure the strawberries you’re eating are fresh, ripe, and flavorful.