Wednesday, April 26, 2006

strawberries...a labor of love

Strawberry Patches are very labor intensive. Once you stake out a plot of land for a strawberry patch and purchase the starter plants, one has to determine where the rows of plants and the walkways for the harvesters should go. The starters are planted in the spring and by late summer to early fall there are at least 3-4 runners coming off of each plant. These must be guided into their rows so they don’t put down their roots into the walkways of the harvesters the next season. If the runners are allowed to put down root wherever they would, the harvesters will damage the plants, which spring up from the runners as well as the fruit from them. If no order is placed upon the patch the entire patch will be so over grown with strawberry plants and berries and weeds, the harvesters will not be able to harvest without trampling on the fruit for not being able to see the fruit hidden under the leaves, which serve as shade from the hot summer sun. Also, in the fall of that same year the farmer must put bedding under and around the plant, to protect the plant from the winter’s cold and to protect the fruit from becoming laden with dirt and mud during the rains throughout the following spring and summer. Now, the straw bedding is incredibly important to the strawberry—so important that the name of the berry was named after the type of bedding used for the plant. No other, fruit has been named after the bedding it takes. The bedding is about as essential as the fruit itself, for without it, there is no fruit, or there is unusable fruit.

However, straw bedding is sort of a catch twenty-two. If in the fall the farmer should happen to bed the patch with straw that happens to be from a weedy grain field, the whole patch will be choked up in weeds the following spring. Yet weedy straw that one buys from the market cannot be distinguished from non-weedy straw. The farmer has to either grow his own grain or treat the straw he purchases to kill the weed-seed before he lays it down as bedding for his strawberry patch. Yet even as great care is taken to keep weeds from choking the strawberry patch, it is very difficult to keep ahead of the weeds. My father was a strawberry farmer and has had numerous fields. Every single one of the fields he gave up on where due to the uncontrollable weed problem, which was complicated by the strawberry runners going everywhere. He couldn’t even keep up with the weeds by putting his wife and 10 children to work in them to root them out.

Once the rows are established and the runners have populated the number of plants sufficiently. It takes either 1 or 2 years after planting the starters to sufficiently populate an organized strawberry patch. During these 1-2 years the farmer does not allow the plants to produce berries. Thus he plucks off the flowers from every plant that blooms so the plant’s energy can be given to establishing a stable and well-rooted plant. The plants will then bear fruit for two to three years. Every year, much care must be given to bed the plants and keep them free of weeds. In my area of Minnesota there are numerous u-pick patches, there are very few patches for commercial use. The reasons u-pick patches are so popular is because (1) the people prefer the quality of the fruit grown and raised locally. Typically, those who buy u-pick berries never purchase them at the supermarket. They harvest during strawberry season and preserve their harvest, for use throughout the coming year. (2) The harvest process is kept manageable by u-pick patches. Since the berries ripen only during the month of June, the farmer would not be able to keep up with the harvesting unless he hired migrant workers. There are no harvesters invented for picking berries. They must all be picked by hand. The fruit is too tender and fragile to invent a machine that would take sufficient care in its handling. (3) The price of the fruit is kept affordable for the local people if they come to pick the berries themselves. (4) The farmer and then more efficiently focus on keeping the patch clean and organized for the people.


S-Nisly said...

So are weeds the greatest threat to strawberry production?

Blorge said...

No, the bourgeois are.

espíritu paz said...

Bourgeois...weeds?? what's the difference??

In my experience, weeds have been the the biggest threat. They never choke out the strawberry plant. They simply make the patch so unmanagable one gives up in frustration. A little like sin, huh.

Blorge said...

It's the farm owner who is the problem because he owns the means of production and underpays the workers.

If the farm were a collective, then we might have an idea, here!

s-nisly said...

Or perhaps the workers could pull the weeds as they pick for discounted or free strawberries, as an option.

Peter said...
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