“Look how many, Mama! Look how many we found!”
Yesterday my children came running back from the strawberry patch with nearly a pint’s-worth of ruby-colored treasure, and they were so excited to show me. The strawberries are starting to ripen!
To my eyes, the strawberry bed is still a sea of green and white. But children’s sharp little eyes are filled with eagerness, and they have been watching the patch every day for the last week. The first of the berries truly are ripe, and the season promises to be a bountiful one.
Looking at the mounds of berry bushes, it’s so hard for me to believe that our whole lovely berry patch started with just three plants, and only last spring. What a wonderful miracle that some of our favorite plants are so easily and plentifully propagated!
For Christmas last year, I had received a copy of a book called The Small Fruit Culturalist, by Andrew S. Fuller. My husband had bought it for me, knowing how much I long to grow an abundant variety of fruits and vegetables in our own gardens.
Over the winter, I read the book several times over, and in the spring was able to procure three strong plants from an excellent variety of strawberries, which produce the most wonderful large and flavorful berries.
After preparing their bed with care, and following all instructions regarding planting, I was delighted to see the plants begin to grow and thrive. Hoping to eventually create a large strawberry bed, I fastidiously followed Mr. Fuller’s directions for propagating the plants:
The varieties mainly cultivated in this country are propagated from the runners. The first produced are usually the strongest and best for early planting, but those that are formed later in the season are equally as good when they arrive at the same age or size. A few theorists have maintained that the first plants formed near the parent stool were the only ones that should be used, and that they were far superior to the others, and would always be more prolific. This assertion is not supported by facts; consequently is not worthy of a moment’s thought. To insure the rooting of runners, the surface of the soil should be kept loose and open, and if the weather is very dry at the same time they are forming, it is well to go over the beds and cover the new roots as they are produced. When only a few very large and strong plants are wonted, it is well to pinch of the runner just beyond the first plant, that this may become strong and vigorous.
A good plan to insure the safe removal of runners after they are rooted, is to sink a pot filled with soil under each joint of the runner and let the roots strike into it. In two or three weeks, the pot may be lifted, and the runner separated from the parent plant. This is a tedious and expensive mode, and seldom necessary.
It often occurs when taking up plants in the fall that many of the small ones are not well rooted, and, if the variety is scarce and valuable, they may be worth saving. If so, cut off the runner close to the plant, and then dibble them close together either in the open ground or in a frame, shade them, and give plenty of water until they are rooted. If they do not produce sufficient roots before cold weather, then protect them, and they will usually form roots before wanted for planting in the spring.
The richer and better the soil, the more rapid will be the production of roots, whether in frames or the open ground.
I have found it to be a good plan to cover the entire surface of the soil with fine compost of pure manure before the runners start in spring.
The runners draw their sustenance from the parent plant until they have formed roots sufficient for self-support. It is therefore important that their roots shall find something to feed upon soon after they are emitted. If water can be liberally applied to the beds it will insure the emission of roots very rapidly.
All last summer, the children helped me to care for the new strawberry bed. Susanna took charge of keeping the bed well-weeded, while the boys kept it amply watered during the long dry spells we saw in mid-summer. Little Abigail was of course too small to be much help yet, but oversaw the efforts from the blanket I used to set her on, while the older children and I worked in the gardens.
During that first summer, I was delighted to see that many runners were produced by each plant, although there were very few berries. It was a joy to me that each of the four children were rewarded for their work by one large berry each, while Dr. Nelson and I happily shared a fifth. I promised us all that next year we would enjoy strawberries in much greater abundance.
But truthfully, even I could not guess at how beautifully those three plants would propagate, and how many berries we would truly have!
This summer I am continuing to follow Mr. Fuller’s propagation instructions, and am also trying his method of rooting some of the young runners into little pots, sunk into the soil. I am hoping to surprise my dear neighbor, Elizabeth, with some healthy young plants as a “Thank You” for all those asparagus starts she blessed me with this spring!