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Leftover strawberry patch adds extra flavor to garden

Leftover strawberry patch adds extra flavor to garden

This strawberry statement is simple: I have lucked into a small patch of red fruits this summer.
Leftover strawberry patch adds extra flavor to garden
A bowl of fresh-picked strawberries sits in Jeff Wilkin's Albany berry patch. Wilkin is using the fruits for strawberry drinks

This strawberry statement is simple: I have lucked into a small patch of red fruits this summer.

The berries came with the plot I was assigned when I rejoined Capital District Community Gardens last winter. For June, my plot is operating in the red — but I’m making a profit.

This is my third year in this excellent program — $30 rents a plot of land in one of 49 gardens in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Saratoga area. The price includes all the water your plants can drink.

I planted tomatoes in downtown Albany in 2012 and moved my rake and shovel to Schenectady, close to the newspaper, for 2013. I really wanted a small farm closer to home, and because I’ve got a little seniority in the program now, I landed in the state Office Complex garden — about five minutes from my Albany stronghold. It’s about 10 feet wide and 40 feet long.

Unexpected bonus

I worked over the soil in early May, taking a shovel and turning over every inch. I wondered what the 50 or 60 bushy green plants were at the end. A couple of cofarmers told me the woman who farmed the land last year had planted strawberries. And they were back for another season.

“You can just rip them out if you want,” one of the guys said.

The thought never entered my mind. While 30 tomato plants and 12 pepper plants are my 2014 main crops, an unexpected bonus in strawberries was easy pickings. Because I’m usually a late summer harvester, I was surprised the strawberries came so quickly. I guess people hold these strawberry festivals in June for a reason.

I’ve been picking about 40 or 50 berries every two days. They’ve got a fresh, tangy, clean taste. No preservatives, no pesticides: Just sun, rain and Mother Earth have been involved in production.

Most of the berries have been tossed into my juicing machine. I recently became hooked on blueberry fruit smoothies, figuring they were the best path for a daily dose of fruit. But these drinks are full of calories, are sodium bombs and dietitians have told me smoothies don’t use the fruit pulp — important for fiber and extra vitamins.

Better Choice

A little water and 25 berries gives me a nutritious strawberry cocktail. It might be a little chunky, and will never replace a cold bottle of Coors Light, but I’m using the whole berry.

Rabbits are not using the whole berry. During dusk watering sessions, I’ve noticed a couple small rabbits sprint out of the patch. Poking into the bushes, I’ve spotted berries mangled during dine-and-dash procedures.

Rabbits haven’t bothered any of the mint plants that also came with the garden. More experienced farm hands have told me I had better get rid of the things, they will just take over the lot. I’ve been surprised at how right these guys have been — seems like more and more columns of mint are showing up in my strawberry patch. It’s like “Day of the Triffids” all over again.

Mint Futures

That’s a sneak preview of sorts. Not for the triffids. I’m going to write about mint leaves and what to do with them in a future “In & Out” feature.

I’ve also spared the perceived “weeds” in the side of the garden, and mercy has been rewarded with cobalt blue and pale blue flowers on tall stalks. I can see a transplant operation in the near future — some of these wild flowers are coming home with me.

For now, it’s all about strawberries. I’m juicing again, living off the land and saving a few dollars at the supermarket. And by the way these rabbits are just rocketing out of the garden, I’m thinking strawberries may improve my speed figures during upcoming 5K runs.

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