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North County's climate is perfect for growing strawberries. File photo
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Jano’s Garden: Strawberries, rhubarb steal the show

North County is the perfect place to grow strawberries. With a climate that includes the moist, marine layer and lots of sunlight, any backyard gardener can have strawberries that produce for months during the growing season.

Set out Everbearing plants in the spring for summer and fall berries, according to Luke Girling, of Cyclops Farm in Fallbrook.

“The best varieties will be those that produce for the entire season such as Seascape or Albion,” Girling said.

HOW TO PLANT

Plant carefully; the crown should be above soil level since a buried crown will rot. The topmost roots should be ¼ inch beneath soil since exposed roots will dry out.

For a small yard, grow a dozen in a sunny spot placing them in a raised bed or in the vegetable garden. On the patio, use the traditional strawberry pot with berries popping out the sides.

WATER

Don’t let plants dry out and fertilize Everbearing types with light feeding throughout the season.

ORNAMENTAL STRAWBERRIES

Ornamental strawberries form a lush, compact mat 4-8 inches high. Plants bear a small crop of tiny but fragrant, delicious berries over a long summer season. Any of the Fragaria varieties have yellow, red and white fruit with lime green foliage. For a surprising and satisfying dessert, serve tiny red alpine strawberries on a plate with white alpine strawberries and golden raspberries.

PESTS AND DISEASES

At Girling’s farm in Fallbrook, he and his family tend to a field of 3,000 strawberries and he is adamant about his organic growing techniques.

“Let’s face it, growing organic strawberries is a lot of work! I walk the fields every day looking for diseased plants or rodent damage,” Girling said.

Girling’s answer to insect and disease invasion is to be on high alert.

“If I see some aphids, I will treat them with a visit from ladybugs,” Girling said. “Both ladybugs and praying mantis will solve many insect issues because their job is to eat aphids! If I see a diseased plant I rip it out instead of using herbicides. You simply have to plant more to account for some loss.”

TRIMMING THE PLANTS

Girling also gave advice about the importance of trimming fast-growing runners.

“In order to reproduce, the runners must be trimmed, so that the plant puts its energy back into producing flowers and fruit,” he said. “If you trim the Everbearing varieties often, you will have berry production all throughout the season.”

FARM STANDS AND U-PICK

Girling and his family from Cyclops Farms sell their fruit, flowers and vegetables at The Plot Restaurant in Oceanside on Saturday mornings and the Leucadia Farmer’s Market on Sundays. Look for Cyclops farms on Facebook or to place an order contact them at www.cyclopsfarm.com

Other places to find wonderful you-pick berries are at Carlsbad Strawberry Company in Carlsbad, www.carlsbadstrawberrycompany, and South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano, www.southcoastfarms.com.

A RECIPE FROM 1950

As a Midwesterner, I have wonderful memories of the strawberry-rhubarb shortcake my grandmother VanDenBerg made every spring.

She became a widow during the 1950s and lived in a tiny bungalow apartment in Milwaukee. Although she earned a small salary as a cook at the local VFW Club, she always treated us to her specialties when we visited on Sundays.

Strawberries were always available in May, and she had a number of plants in her small vegetable plot in the backyard. The star of the spring season was rhubarb, which grows as a perennial in the Midwest.

My grandmother’s tiny kitchen was filled with pots and pans, so many that she stored some in her oven. Her expertise was in baking, and as a child, I sat in her kitchen to watch her make this memorable dessert. This recipe for the Strawberry – Rhubarb Shortcake I grew up with!

STRAWBERRY AND RHUBARB SHORTCAKE

Ingredients

12 ounces rhubarb (6 to 8 stalks)

6 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ cups strawberries, hulled and halved

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Bisquick Biscuit Mix (follow directions for rolled biscuits)

One-pint heavy whipping cream, vanilla and sugar to taste

Bring rhubarb, sugar and ¼ cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until liquid is reduced by half, about eight minutes. Stir in strawberries and vanilla, about three minutes more, until strawberries are softened. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature.

While rhubarb is cooking make the biscuits. Follow directions on the package, making enough for your guests. When biscuits are done, slice open and add the strawberry mixture to each. Whip up some “real whipped cream” with heavy whipping cream and sugar, and serve to your guests! Leftover compote will store for weeks in the refrigerator.

NOTE: Rhubarb can also be grown in North County. Go to www.sdmastergardeners.org for complete instructions

Enjoy your springtime gardens, and send me your favorite fruit and vegetable recipes to share @[email protected]

JANO NIGHTINGALE is a horticulturist and former Director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program in Cooperstown, New York. She lives and gardens with her son in Vista, and works on local community gardens. Contact her at [email protected]

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