Humility and the Strawberry

I have a theory about health.  I believe we take it for granted.  (That’s not the theory part, I’m giving some background).  We eat terribly, we don’t exercise, we don’t get enough sleep, and on top of it, we complain.  About how tired we are, how fat we are, blah, blah, blah.  Well, my theory goes like this:  we need a good debilitating injury every once in awhile to help us appreciate all we have.

I’m not talking about cancer or a terrible car accident or anything horrific.  I’m talking a paper cut right on the end of your index finger, or a slight sprained ankle (which I have right now), or the flu.  Something that we can conquer – but not first by taking it easy a bit.  In those hours of taking it easy, we have time to think.  We have time to appreciate.  We have time to recognize that when we are healthy, we’ve got it pretty darned good. Also during those hours, we have to ask for help.  I can’t do a lot right now… I think I can, but every time I try my foot swells up.  So, I have to ask for help.  For a glass of water, for dinner.  It is humbling to be so dependent.  But in the asking, in the being humble, I have been given a gift. I let my guard down.  I let someone take care of me… I let myself be a little bit vulnerable.

Which brings me to strawberries.

I love strawberries.  Strawberries mean spring, and shortcake, and sunny days.

Strawberries are also one of the “dirty dozen” — one of the worst foods to eat conventionally.  Pesticides and herbicides are absorbed into the fruit so even washing them does not make the fruit clean — when you eat a conventional strawberry, you are also eating the poisons used to kill bugs, weeds, etc.  So, organic strawberries it is!

Organic strawberries are wicked expensive, and sort of small, and just not as fun as conventional fruit.  So, in 2010, I decided to grow my own.  Here’s a picture of my original strawberry patch. (Please ignore the rest of the garden – WHAT A MESS!)  I planted about 20 plants in total.  I did everything according to the book – I built mounds, I put down mulch cloth… I snipped off the blossoms until July 4th (to allow the roots to really get established).

That first harvest was pretty small — and I learned a lot.  First of all, the plants will send out runners – which need to be clipped.  Second, they are fast growers, and require a lot of pruning underneath — branches die and need to be removed.

Yeah, to remove the runners and detrius from a strawberry plant means kneeling down, bending over until one’s face is just inches from the ground, twisting, reaching, snipping, snipping, snipping.  Backbreaking work.  Absolutely painful.

But at the end of the day, I was rewarded with beautiful, plump, shiny red strawberries.  I like ‘em well ripened, so I would eyeball them on Tuesday, planning to harvest on Thursday.  Wednesday afternoon I would discover that the slugs, or pincher bugs, or some other varmint had beaten me too it.  And even more mean than that?  They only eat the bottom.  So what looks like a perfect strawberry while standing in the garden in admiring-mode reveals itself to be a recently gutted, mushy, rotting piece of fruit once in the kneeling, twisting, bending position.  Heartbreaking work.  Absolutely painful.

Last year, we also began to suspect that larger critters were taking liberties with the berries — larger chunks were bitten, or entire fruit was gone… rats?  racoons?  opossums?  We built Fort Knox.

Fort Knox doesn’t keep out slugs or pincher bugs.  On the good side, it did deter the big critters, but Fort Knox is also hard for humans to break into, and this became a nightmare.  I cut my hands numerous times on the sharp wire edges, it was clunky to try to pull off the mesh, etc.

Enter the basket.  On a fence.  Which means I can harvest, clean and admire my berries WHILE STANDING UP!  Which means slugs and pincher bugs have a lot more work to do to get to my food.  Larger rodents?  Stay tuned.

As for humility… I will never look at the massive displays of strawberries at the grocery store or farmer’s market the same way again.  Strawberries cannot be mechanically harvested.  This is painful, backbreaking work.  My hat is off to those who toil endless hours, in the sun, for low pay.  Backbreaking, backbreaking stuff.  Humbling, to realize what goes into that display at the store. It is so easy to take food for granted, but this is one food I will never look at the same way again.


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