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Grazing in the garden: Strawberries are ripening | The Gardener's Way

One of the best things about an organic garden is being able to “graze” the fruits and vegetables as you walk through the garden. Just wipe the dirt off the carrot on your pant leg and chomp away!

I do this quite often as I do my slug and bug patrol each morning at the Federal Way Senior Center Community Garden. And now that the strawberries are ripening, the stroll is even more enjoyable! Just pick and munch.

We grow four varieties of strawberries at the community garden. The Tristar and Seascape are everbearing strawberries. That means that they begin to ripen around the first of July and will continue to provide a modest harvest until fall. Our Earliglow variety is a June bearing strawberry and it will put out a large crop from mid-June until mid-July. We also grow alpine strawberries. These compact everbearing plants provide an abundant crop of very flavorful berries about the size of the end of your little finger. To keep the birds from beating us to the harvest, we put a netting over the beds when the berries begin to ripen.

Strawberry plants get tired by the end of their second year of life, and by the third year, will have a much smaller harvest. After two years, you should plan on replacing your plants. This is a fairly simple process. Toward the end of the season, simply let a few of the runners remain on the plant until they have formed a new plant on the end. Make sure that the new plant is sitting on soil so that it can form new roots. Once it is rooted, cut it from the parent plant, dig up the parent and throw it in the compost pile. Next spring your new plant will be ready to give you a great harvest for the next two years.

Blueberries are a great plant for the garden. At the community garden, we have a 60-foot bed dedicated for our 30 dwarf blueberry bushes. As the berries ripen, we will cover the bushes with a netting to keep the birds away. Blueberries are the only plant in the vegetable/fruit garden that needs to be grown in acid soil. For this reason, it is not a good idea to grow other vegetables or fruit with our blueberries.

At the community garden we have 32 dwarf fruit trees planted along the main paths. The trees are spaced such that we can plant flowers and vegetables in the same 4-foot-wide beds. In fact, in a typical 4-foot-x-32-foot raised bed we have four apple trees, 50 lettuce plants, 20 cabbage plants and 100 onions. And by July, the lettuce, cabbage and onions will be harvested and we will plant over 1,000 beets and carrots for a fall harvest.

We do not spray our fruit trees. Beginning in April, we keep the leaf hoppers in check with yellow cards covered with tanglefoot. For control of the apple maggot and codling moth, we cover the apples with a nylon “footie” in early June.

I encourage you to stop by the community garden (4016 S. 352nd St. in Auburn) and check out the techniques we use to grow our fruit.

Get a quick glimpse of the Federal Way Senior Center Community Garden in this short video featuring Master Gardener Mike Stanley:

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