The February rain still has a cold edge to it, and I’m looking forward to English peas and salmon season. Strawberries are far from my mind. But farmers think further ahead. Today we are transplanting strawberry seedlings – white mountain berries that taste like candy. Fred wants to plant part of a row with them, and sell the rest of the plants at the market.
Last year, Fred had macerated berries from the plants that did well on his farm, and soaked the pulp in water. The seeds eventually separated from the flesh of the fruit, and sank to the bottom of the jar. He dried these, planted them a month ago. Now they looked like clover in a brownie pan.
In the hoophouse, Mia and I sat on opposite sides of an old table with two sopping wet pans of seedlings. We gently prised apart the tiny sprouts, some with only two or three leaves and a thread of root trailing. Each seedling got its own little pot. We dug a finger deep into the fluffy soil and carefully dropped in each one, pushing the earth to gently hold it in place. After we finished a flat, Fred watered it. They would take a bit of a beating then, and after their shower, they lay limp. We propped each of them up with our fingers so they would stand straight. Then we set them in the shade, so the plants could acclimate to their new environment.
The first pan of seedlings looked like nothing much would come of it. Most of the pans glowed green, with strawberry leaves as small as ladybugs. But this first pan was full of the remnants from yesterday’s planting, and all the big seedlings had been teased out already. It was a tangled mess of leaves and roots, and could easily have been discarded.
We fished out every seedling we could find, knowing each one could eventually become a full-fledged, mouthwatering plant with albino berries beneath its leaves. We did our best not to waste one seedling. We moved on to another, much prettier looking flat of seedlings. The work was faster going then.
As I drove back home, I dodged a tree branch on the freeway, still with green leaves on. It must have fallen out of a truck full of tree trimmings. I wondered if it could still be a tree, if I took it home and treated it well.