Party Time!

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We have a place in the vegetable garden that has been evolving since before we moved here, almost two and a half years ago.  It started many years ago when I decided I would like to grow blueberries in the back yard.  Bruce said, well, they don’t grow here.  I said, well, we could give it a try.  So we did give it a try and we were very successful!  We had 4 high bush plants to start with and then Bruce started some trials with the Master Gardener group.  He wanted to find out if people living in spaces with very little light, as in an apartment, could grow the berries in a planter.  He planted 70 bushes at the MG garden and we had several bushes placed around the house, in the ground and in planters.  We always had blueberries, either fresh or frozen.  When we moved here to Oregon, Bruce trucked up all the blueberries plants that  were in the planters and placed them out near the vegetables.

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Growing blueberries in California is a bit different than growing them in Oregon.  Firstly, I suppose it’s because we had blue jays in California and none here, but in California the birds never ate the blueberries.  Here, they eat them like candy.  I read somewhere that blue jays don’t like blueberries, or apparently, other birds.  We ended up having to cover the berries in bird netting which was mostly successful.  Secondly, in California, when the berries get ripe you need to get out and pick them or in a few days they will be soft and not good for eating.  Here, they last quite a long time on the bush, so if you get busy (or sick) they will wait for you.  At least, they did the first year.  We’ll see about that as we go along.  The first year here, I was sick and didn’t pick them for a month and figured the crop was a total waste.  But no, they were there waiting for me, just as delicious as always.

Our first year here we went on the hunt for strawberries and found a few places with so-so fields.  The people are very honest here in Oregon.  The field can be miles away from the vendor, but there will be a sign at the field telling you to pick as much as you want and then drive to the farm stand and pay for them.  I can tell you that they would never get paid in California.  At any rate, we found a very nice place, The Berry Patch, which puts their strawberry plants in large PVC pipes about 4 feet off the ground.  All you have to do is stand there and pick the strawberries–no more stooping in the dirt!  We thought that this was genius and set about implementing this in our garden.  Bruce figured out how to do it and put it in last year.  The crop was small last year, but this year we are harvesting a large crop.

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Well, we would if we could keep those birds away.  They love strawberries too!  So, the next plan was to put netting around the strawberries, which was more of an undertaking than the blueberries, because of the size.  And why put up netting for just one kind of berry?  Bruce decided to map out an area to the south of the vegetable patch where the strawberries are and set up the blueberry planters in addition to planting a row of blueberries, a row of raspberries, and a row of blackberries.

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Blackberries

As you can imagine, this is not a small berry patch.  The problem was how to cover it all with netting.  Of course, Bruce had a plan, but there were numerous problems, which were all overcome for the most part.  He hammered metal poles into the ground in a big square shape around the berries and then attached small PVC pipes to the corners and in a square around the top, as a type of scaffolding.  He, with help from his niece’s husband, put the netting over the top and sides of the pipes.  The netting is not very wide so it needed to be attached at various points to keep from gaping open and letting the birds in.  It looked great when they finished!

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Berry patch enclosed with netting

The next week, when the strawberries were finally ripening, we found birds inside the netting every day.  Bruce bought a fishing net to scoop them out–no photos of that, but it was like a comedy routine.  He bought more clips and finally got all of the gaps closed.  We don’t get birds in the berries any more, a fact they insist on telling us about every morning!

The next problem with the berry patch was the weeds!  We have killer weeds here in Oregon, and I am convinced that we live on a giant mound of weeds.  The weeds will grow higher than the plants and if you don’t go after them, you will never see the flowers blooming.  I went out one day this week when it was cool and a bit rainy and once and for all (maybe) tackled those weeds.  It took me seven hours with help from Bruce to get rid of all the weeds just around the berry rows.  Oh boy, it looks so nice now, and it’s fun to go out and pick the berries without having to look at weeds!

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1. Before weeding    2.  Same place, after weeding  

3.  The tools of destruction–notice the very important “bionic” gloves”.  

I’ve had these gloves about two weeks

I have considered doing a separate post about the weeds here.  There are so many varieties and they all seem to have a different method of survival and propagation.  We have one in the flower garden that holds onto its seeds until you touch it and then seeds fly ALL over the place.  The weeds are interesting from a botany point of view, but I would rather not have to deal with them on such a personal basis.  The best thing that I can say about them is that they provide me with a great form of exercise!

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1. Doesn’t this plant look lovely?  2 & 3. This is what it does–starts in one place, travels around and wraps itself around everything!

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1. I colored this weed pink to show that it is as tall as the raspberry bushes.

2. This weed is bigger than my foot

3. Look at that taproot!

4. This weed clumps together with its friends, making it very difficult to pull out

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Some critters who came out to keep me company–a very tiny, about 1-inch long, frog, and I’m guessing a centipede

As you can see from the photos we will have massive amounts of berries in the coming years.  What to do with them all?  First, you just eat them raw…until you are tired of them.  Then you can lay them out on cookie sheets, freeze them, and then bag them up in ziplock bags.  These will last throughout the year to be used as a topping for yogurt and cereal or baked into muffins or other desserts.  Third, you can make them into jam.  So far, we have made strawberry jam with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, and strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary.

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Strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary

 We used the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook as a guide and the jam tastes just like the very best fresh strawberries-the best we’ve ever had.  I’m not a fan of fresh raspberries, but I’m looking forward to making raspberry jam and if we get a large enough crop I’ll freeze some for desserts.  We have a friend who freezes her raspberries and makes Raspberry Chocolate Jam all year to sell at the local farmer’s market.

There is nothing better than having a strawberry patch in your own back yard for chasing away the winter doldrums and heralding the beginning of spring.  Strawberries seem to be nature’s way of saying, Let the party begin!

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 Let’s Party!

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