Thursday, November 5, 2009

Strawberries to bed

I woke up this morning to find my raised beds heaved out of place by the overnight cold. One side of the strawberry bed had burst open -- the victim of a curious toddler having removed some of the reinforcing anchors. I had been waiting to mulch my strawberries. All my references had advised to mulch only after several frosts. But, I figured if it was cold enough to make the soil in my bed expand this forcefully, I should mulch now. I don't want my strawberry crowns to be damaged or heaved out of place. So, after a rib-sticking breakfast, my toddler son and I went out to face the 6 am cold with a pile of newspapers, and we layered them around the plants. Then, we spread a good 4 inches of shredded wood on top.

The traditional mulch for strawberries is barley straw, which I am sure is more picturesque than the newspapers and wood I used. Straw mulch was difficult for me to find, and I don't have a pick-up for transporting a big load anyway, so the bags of organic shredded wood from a local nursery were my compromise. I saw last season that the North Park Nature Village offers straw mulch for the taking. I worried that this free straw would bring seeds of the North Park prairie plants along with it, and I don't want troublesome weeds in my beds. Apparently the city offers free mulch as well -- from chipped trees -- but you have to take a lot, and some folks have reported insect infestations following its use. Strawberry care sources also suggest using leaves as mulch or just newspapers, but I have tried both in other areas of the garden and they blow away. And the newspapers look terrible -- soggy and depressing.

I have been surprised by how engaged my son has been in the care of the late fall garden. I thought he would only want to participate when big vegetables were growing and the soil was squishy and earthworms abounded. Indeed, whenever I see discussions of children's gardening -- Joe Eck being the one exception--, there is focus on rapid production of showy plants or easily harvested vegetables. But my son has enjoyed composting debris, layering mulches, and planting bulbs. This is a reminder to me that children too can enjoy chores and the excitement of planning for another season. If we only offer them radishes and sunflowers in "children's gardens", then how will they ever learn the peace of a spent garden, well-tended, or the subtle pleasure of a cold morning and sweet-smelling mulch? We worked together to spread a satisfyingly large pile of mulch around the bed, and I watched as he fit the rhythm of gardening into his own toddler life: "Good night, strawberries! Go to bed!" he chirped as he patted down the wood. "Don't let the bedbugs bite!".

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I can't wait until my son is old enough to help out in the gardens with us. He's only 9 months now (pics at site), but I think by next fall he might be able to handle some simple tasks. Thanks for the inspiration!