I love strawberries! All kinds. But the strawberry that really grabs me is the delicate heirloom alpine variety known as Fraises des Bois. The elongated conical pointed fruits grow on mostly runnerless crowns, making this an ideal plant for containers or window boxes. I have grown mine organically for 10 years in two window boxes outside my kitchen door opening to my garden, and they have weathered unbelievably capricious summers and cruel winters without blushing. Each Spring they begin their unending offering of red, intensely flavored sweet, piquant fruits — it takes only a few to brighten a morning bowl of cereal. The fruiting lasts until the first freeze. The crowns are evergreen and regenerate themselves each Spring as if by magic. I give them an occasional shot of Espoma Organic Grow fertilizer, and remove any tired leaves but that is all I do and they repay me with such treasure!
If you have a medicinal herb or ayurvedic garden, you should add Fraises des Bois for their remarkable and little known health benefits. Not typically associated in the modern mind with medicinal use, Alpine Strawberry was historically part of the pharmacopeia and used in many different ways: the root for diarrhea; the stalks for wounds; the leaves as astringents. Today, teas made from the leaves are wonderful for digestion (and diarrhea) and to stimulate the appetite, and recent study indicates a high element of ellagic acid, a known cancer preventative. The crushed fruit is very soothing to the skin and has antibacterial properties, AND can be applied to teeth (with baking soda) or skin to “bleach white.” The berries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and recent studies show them to be high in antioxidants, making them one to add to your cancer protection diet.
I have harvested and sold the seed for this wonderful fruit for many years, but this year decided to offer a few plants at Farmer’s Market. So this Saturday you can pick up one of these rare heirlooms and start your own back porch strawberry patch! It is easy to do with just one or two plants. Hurry before they are all gone!
If you are not lucky enough to have this volunteer “weed” popping up in early spring in your garden grow it! It is loaded with saponins that detoxify the human body. Chickweed, also known as chickenwort, is commonly found in many folks’ gardens and is properly considered invasive. Yet, it is a wonderful, nutritious spring tonic that grows quickly and is a good candidate for growing indoors in pots. A low-growing succulent that can spread out into extensive mats, it is a winter annual (I can pull back snow and find it green and juicy underneath) that produces tiny white flowers and fruit pods and slightly fuzzy stems. Flowers and sets seed at the same time. Chickens love it too (hence the name) so you can grow as fodder. I have patches of it all over my garden, and my chicks favorite afternoon treat is a handful pulled fresh.
It is easy to grow – just broadcast over rich garden soil and keep moist until germination. Quick growing too – you will have a crop in less than a month! For we humans, simply pick, rinse and sprinkle the delicate sprays on your salads or add it to your juicing concoction. Or, dry for addition to any healing salve. It is especially soothing to psoriasis, eczema and poison ivy rash. Chickweed has been a valued medicinal for centuries, used to cure everything from mange, skin disease, bronchitis, arthritis and menstrual pain. But perhaps the historic use that peaks everyone’s interest today is that Chickweed water was an old wives’ remedy for obesity. I do not know if there is any scientific support, or ongoing study of this claim, but scientists are always the last ones to catch up! Right girls?
The Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins has the best charts/graphics we’ve seen for when you should start/sow your seeds. The first part of this article focuses on the Mid-Atlantic region, but also includes an adjustment schedule for the rest of the country. The important thing to remember, however, is that if you have been experiencing quirky weather (and who hasn’t lately) you need to use extreme caution determining when to “harden off” your seedlings for transplants. A sudden cold snap will destroy weeks of patient seed starting and an early day of bright sunshine and warmth can literally fry your little tomatoes enjoying their first outing. [Note: If you are unable to load the graphics, just google your zip code’s last frost date and count backwards from the time required for the seed you are starting. Remember, you must allow for sufficient “hardening off” time before setting outside or in the ground. Hardening off is the gradual process of acclimating your seedling to outdoor conditions. It must be gradual – starting at 15 minutes only in direct sunlight per day, or you will lose your seedlings to the harsher (sun, cold, wind) conditions. You start the hardening off inside by running a gentle fan over your seedlings as they grow. This will produce thicker, stronger stems. Also, be sure your seedlings get 14 hours of artificial “sun” that is close to them — no more than 3″ away — to encourage stout and hardy growth.]