I CAN Grow Strawberries in the Desert!
Strawberries! Beautiful, gorgeous, plump, delicious, red strawberries! It would be hard to imagine a single soul on this planet not loving strawberries. As a gardener, it would be hard to imagine anyone not trying to grow this luscious fruit at least once. Just as it is with nearly everything homegrown, there is nothing like the taste of a home grown strawberry. The trick is figuring out how to grow them.
If you live in Washington, Oregon or England, strawberries will grow for you like weeds. There are other areas where one can successfully grow them but more importantly there are areas where it is a seemingly insurmountable challenge. As a resident of the desert southwest, I just happen to fall into this category. The worst part is I moved here from England so not being able to grow my most beloved and cherished breakfast accessory is a fate I am not accepting easily.
Third Time's the Charm
Before I continue, I wanted to say I will forever be grateful to a fellow Dave's Garden member for teaching me an important life lesson. There is no such thing as failure. You are probably thinking, of course there is! Well, being a glass-half-full kind of guy I latched onto this concept rather easily. If you are not successful the first time, you have merely learned one way something will not work--which leaves opportunity to try again. Just ask Thomas Edison:
After Thomas Edison's seven-hundredth unsuccessful attempt to invent electric light, he was asked by a New York Times reporter, "How does it feel to have failed seven hundred times?" The great inventor responded, "I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
The first year I made the firm decision to grow some strawberries, I purchased them in the spring with delusions of grandeur that I would have a plentiful summer crop. I planted them in some fertile soil, gave them a nice drink and waited for them to take off. They grew a little bit and then all of a sudden stopped. I could not determine what had gone wrong. I did everything I had done when growing the plants in England. What was wrong? HEAT! That is what was wrong. Strawberries are not big fans of hot, dry climates. It is actually the polar opposite of their preferred mild, wet climate.
The second year, I consulted the ever-so-wise and wonderful Google for advice on how to grow strawberries in the low desert. The results were less than encouraging. Still, the consistent message seemed to be to start them in the autumn for a spring crop. Further, it was best to choose everbearing varieties. So, in September, I purchased some more strawberry plants from a local nursery and again waited in anticipation for an overflowing bounty of fruit during the first months of spring. I harvested a grand total of one strawberry and even that meager offering had holes where an insect decided to make a meal of it first. I did more research to determine what could have gone wrong. It turns out, I did not provide a sunny enough location and I failed to feed them enough.
I decided the third year would be my final effort. This time, I did everything by the book. I obtained some 'Fort Laramie' strawberries and I created a large gravel laden mound with a lot of compost mixed in. I thought to myself as I planted that I really cannot go wrong with a name like Fort Laramie. I grew up In Wyoming so something deep inside me told me this will be it! I will get some strawberries in the spring. After planting, the plants immediately created runners which I thought was a good sign. I pressed the runners in the ground firmly and once rooted I separated them from the parent plants. I started with two plants and now had seven! I was thrilled at my apparent immediate success.
The cold weather came and the growth slowed but this is a frost resistant variety so no real damage was done to the plants. Then it happened! The weather warmed and there was a proliferation of flowers and then those little lime green bumps. The bumps kept growing and growing. Soon, they were red. On the day I was going to eat them from breakfast, a cactus wren beat me to the punch!
On the weekend of February 21 and 22, I am proud to say I harvested three luscious strawberries from the garden. SUCCESS! I placed my treasure on the counter and arranged them beautifully so I could take their photograph for this article. Well, the love of strawberries runs deep in my family. My son ate them. So, how do these gorgeous, red beauties picked from the garden taste? I don't know yet but boy they sure looked good!
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 27, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
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