Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Last year, I planted three dozen bare-rooted strawberries. I tended to them carefully and was rewarded with a grand total of about 5 strawberries in my first year (plus a few uncounted ones that went straight into the kids' tummies). It didn't seem like the best deal at the time... However, I continued to look after them, I replanted the large number of runners, mulched heavily, applied cow manure and sea weed brew and whatever else I could get my hands on, and aren't we being rewarded this year!
A local strawberry farmer asks $10.00 per kilo for strawberries you pick yourself. Given that price, I have now more than recouped my initial expenditure, and the kids just love it! We have been eating fruit salads with strawberries, home-made strawberry ice-cream, strawberry pavlova and whatever else you can come up with. Being a bit of a squirrel, I usually put a small batch of each harvest into the freezer so that we can still enjoy strawberries even when the harvest is over.
Strawberries love plenty of mulch, consistent moisture and not too intense sun. The ones I planted on the sunny side of the house didn't do all that well. I also noticed that the birds mostly peck on the strawberries that are planted as single specimen, whereas the mass planting in my main strawberry bed is virtually unaffected by birds.
Is it worth growing strawberries? Absolutely. Not only do they taste much better when freshly picked, growing your own also means you know what's gone into growing them. Earlier this year, the consumer organisation CHOICE conducted a study of pesticide levels on strawberries and made a number of disturbing findings: 17 of the 27 samples of conventionally grown strawberries (bought at Coles, Woolworths and independent retailers across Australia) contained residues of at least two types of pesticide or fungicide. One sample contained a pesticide residue at a level that exceeded the maximum residue limit (MRL); others contained a pesticide that the regulations don’t allow Australian growers to use on strawberries, and some contained residues of four different kinds of pesticides.
According to CHOICE:
Strawberries are unfortunately more likely to be contaminated with pesticides than other fresh fruit, as growers use pesticides to protect their strawberries from insect pests and fungal diseases. Without pesticides, strawberries would be more expensive because yields would be lower and there would be greater losses from them going bad before they get to the shops. [...]
The last time independent test results were published in Australia (in 2003), strawberries stood out as the fruit with the highest levels of pesticide residues [...]. They've been flagged in the US as of 'high concern' for pesticide contamination. When last tested in the UK, 67% of strawberries contained pesticide residues. In France a recent survey found pesticide residues above the legal limit in 20% of strawberries.