Organic Strawberry Growing for Dummies

My strawberry plants are very happy right now, and I am harvesting strawberries. In clearing space for some plants, I had to pick a lot of strawberry plants out. Most people just compost old plants, but I decided to have some fun by giving them away. I put them in pots and gave them to strangers who walked by, as well as friends as family. I’d like to share my knowledge with anyone who is interested in strawberry growing.

I’ve learned some strawberry knowledge, and I am going to bless you with my knowledge from my EXTREMELY limited experience.

Gardening is a great way to use up free time, and it’s very rewarding and therapeutic. Mother Nature is powerful, and who knows what horrors you can put your plants through that they might bounce back from. But is that what you want? That’s the beauty of gardening. There’s no right or wrong, and nature has a wonderful way of adapting to things in unexpected ways. Plants need soil, light, and water. Mulching and fertilizing are two things that might seem expendable. And, you might be right. It really depends how well you want to take care of your plants. Do you just want to keep them barely alive, or do you want as many strawberries as possible? Do you just want them to be green and look pretty?

Okay, so, let’s say you have bought the most beautiful strawberry plant in a pot that comes with nice soil. If you just want to keep it alive, you have to put it in light and water it an inch a week. That’s the bare minimum.

June-bearing, Everbearing, or Day-neutral?

These are the three types of strawberry plants. But also more. It’s super confusing. Honestly I don’t get it. But here’s what the internet says: June-bearing is the most common, and produces the most and the largest strawberries for only a 2-3 week period around June once a year. Everbearing has 2-3 harvests per year, with a smaller harvest. Day-neutral varieties are the new fancy kind that produce berries throughout the summer. It’s super confusing, but if you’re looking into buying strawberry plants, I would do more research, because the kinds produce fruit at very different times.

Pot or Ground?

You can plant your strawberry plant in the ground, but the strawberries will be MUCH easier to pick if the plant is in a pot. If you plant them, they will spread everywhere. The berries themselves can’t touch the ground at ALL, or the entire strawberry will be ruined. While they are bearing strawberries, it is necessary to dig around the plants deep into the ground so the strawberries hanging off the plants don’t touch soil. Going from pot to soil and expecting non-moldy strawberries requires a bare minimum of digging deeply around the plants. The advantage of putting your plant in the ground, however, is that it will spread. The original plants will put out shoots that will root and create more plants. More strawberry plants means more strawberries (yay!). But more strawberry plants also means more work. Because they put out shoots and spread, every year it will become a thick strawberry tangled mess. You will have to remove a bunch of the plants to make space and dig around them. If you are willing to put in a lot of work, ground is a great way to get more crops. If you know you’re not going to put in the extra effort, pots are MUCH easier because they keep the berries off the ground as they hang over the edge.

Cut off Dead Stuff

If something happened to your berry plants and they’re looking very brown, cut off ALL the leaves and vines, and they will make new, more productive leaves and shoots leading to new plants. Every year after the growing season, you’re supposed to cut off all the leaves so new ones grow. It’s up to you if you want to do that, but I would advise it. Old strawberry plants don’t produce many berries, and the few berries get smaller and smaller as years go by. Plants are also very susceptible to disease, unfortunately. Berries you buy in the store are covered in chemicals because growing huge, red, glossy berries requires them to be eaten within an hour of being picked, not touch the ground, and all organisms to stay away. The reality of organic growing is lots of VERY ugly strawberries that go bad within 20 minutes. Cut off dead stuff as frequently as possible. If a tiny bit of a leaf in grown, just cut off the whole thing. That leaf is diseased and will just create more diseased leaves, and then diseased strawberries. If your strawberries look funny research strawberry diseases to try to help your sick strawberries.

Mulching?

Mulching is when you put something around the base of the plant to retain moisture, such as straw. Strawberries love this consistent moisture. Hence the name. STRAWberries. So, yes, mulching your plants is a great idea. Look up some mulching materials and mulch your berries to really see why they put the straw in strawberry! But honestly the plant will survive if you don’t. It’s worth the extra effort, though.

Fertilizing?

Strawberries really like nitrogen, so look up online ways to make your soil nitrogen-rich. Blood meal is a great, organic source (if you buy organic blood meal) of nitrogen.

Harvesting!

The basics are to harvest strawberries every 3 days, pick strawberries by clipping them a 1/2 inch from the stem of the berry, and pick them when ripe. Picking them when ripe is the hard part. Organic strawberries are some of the most difficult crops to grow. Once you pick them, they will not ripen anymore. So picking them before they are ripe will lead to strawberries that don’t have much flavor. The longer they ripen on the vine, the sweeter they get. They are ready to pick once they are a deep red. Even if they are deep red and smaller than a blueberry, they will unfortunately not get any bigger once they turn that dark red. I eat the tiny ones, but even if you don’t want to eat them, pick the tiny dark red strawberries so the plant doesn’t keep putting energy into them. After they turn dark red, all berries will rot and be eaten by other animals. Once they get that deep red pick them right away. Pick strawberries at least every 3 days, cutting away old berries you missed as well as ripe ones. They are frustrating to grow because sometimes bugs or birds or whatever get to them before they achieve a nice deep red. It’s an imperfect science at best. You’ll learn as you go. You got this.

Watering

Probably the most important thing, but also the simplest. Water your plants a little bit every day, about an inch a week. Think about an 1/8 cup of water a day. They have a reputation of rotting when overwatered, and people are hesitant to water them frequently. But in Southern California it is very hot, so please just water them a teeny bit every day if you are not good with watering plants. Ideally, don’t keep track of how often, because the most important thing is how the plant is doing. Maintain consistently moist soil around the roots. Check by putting your finger in the soil to feel the moisture the roots are experiencing. Having a 24 hour period of no water will damage the plant, and having a 24 hour period of too much water will cause the roots to rot and severely damage the plant. Thus, constant light moisture.

In a perfect world, you should put your plants in full sunlight, water them, cut off dead stuff, mulch, and fertilize them with nitrogen-rich soil. Do what you can. Happy strawberry growing!

How Mission Viejo Differs from Seattle

I moved from Mission Viejo, California to an island in Washington by Seattle. I lived in Mission Viejo for the first 18 years of my life, and never moved. Moving to Washington, I don’t know how much of what I’ve noticed is specific to cities or is state-wide. Nevertheless, here are the random differences I’ve noticed.

  1. Axolotls are Illegal in CA

Axolotls only exist naturally in one polluted lake in Mexico, so catching and taking home wild axolotls is highly illegal due to their high endangerment in the wild. Because of California’s proximity to Mexico, axolotls are not allowed as pets to prevent axolotl trafficking. They are also illegal in New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia, Maine, and Washington D.C. Don’t ask me why they’re illegal in the other states. But they’re legal in most states, including Washington, because they are distributed humanely.

  1. People Aren’t as Friendly

In Mission Viejo, everyone is always smiling and trying to look happy. Washington? Not so much. The gloomy weather leads most to not want to leave the house and gaze sadly out the rain-spattered window. It’s hard to seem happy when it’s always raining and foggy, and people in Washington just don’t care enough to portray themselves as happy. There are ups and downs to this. I feel people in Orange County are more fake nice and always trying to get on your good side to cash in the favor later, while people in Washington aren’t concerned about what you think of them and are more honest with their feelings.

  1. It’s Rainy

California is very sunny. Growing up 15 minutes from the beach, I didn’t realize how special that was. In Washington, if it’s sunny out, vendors will abandon their shop to stand outside in the sunshine. It’s a state-wide event. People will wear sundresses and constantly be talking about how nice of a day it is. When it’s sunny in California, it’s just a day. It’s crazy how a lot of the world only sees the sun a few months of the year.

  1. Everyone is Pale

I didn’t realize how much sunscreen I was using in California! Up here, you don’t need sunscreen. Ever. And everyone is super pale. In Orange County, everyone is always talking about how they need a tan. Here, everyone is pale and proud of it. I have not seen a tanning salon. It’s nice to be so comfortable with my pale self, as I always felt ashamed of not having a tan in Mission Viejo. But it’s weird having people not care about having a tan after being in Orange County!

  1. They Drink Coffee All Day

I thought people in California drank a lot of coffee. But I hadn’t been to Washington. Coffee is their water. Everyone always has a cup of coffee in their hand, even at 6pm! There are cafés everywhere, as well as drive-up coffee stands in every parking lot. I’ve never seen one in California, but they’re everywhere in Washington! Starbucks started in Seattle, and I think that says it all. People up here drink coffee all day, every day. I have never heard someone say, “You shouldn’t drink coffee right before bed!” They do not care. They drink it as their dessert. Washington is also the only state to have free coffee at every rest stop. They really love their coffee.

  1. Racial Diversity

Both Mission Viejo and Seattle are diverse. Both have mainly Caucasian people, but Mission Viejo has significantly more Hispanic people and Seattle has significantly more African American people.

  1. Storage Units

There are storage units everywhere here. I don’t know why, but here’s my theory. Orange County is newer, so people move there with few belongings, knowing how high rent is going to be. In the Seattle area, there are many retired people who don’t have space for their growing belongings and can’t afford a new house. But that like folding laundry and having band rehearsals. Storage units are used more actively here, opposed to dusty places you forget your own.

  1. Everyone is Sad

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real. It’s depression due to lack of sunlight, and it’s very present in Washington. For example, there is only light out from 7:52am-4:16pm in WA on Dec 15, 2019m only about 8 hours of daylight. On that day in California, there are about 10 hours of daylight from 6:47am-4:44pm, California almost has two more full hours of daylight! Having less Vitamin A causes depression, which is probably why Washington’s suicide rates are above the national average, while California’s rates are below.

  1. There Are Fewer People

Just Orange County has a population of roughly 3 million, while all of Washington is 7.5 million! And Washington is half the size of California. There’s is a much lower population density state-wide in Washington, but Seattle is very packed. There are also just fewer people overall. California has a population of almost 40 million, over 5x that of Washington despite being twice as big!

  1. It’s Right by Canada

In California, people go to Mexico on the weekends, but in Washington, people go to Canada on the weekend. Both states border another country and seem to have more people visiting the US than Americans traveling across the border. Washington is the go-to for Canadian gamblers due to legal casinos and is more of a place to visit for foreigners, while Mexicans seem to move to California.

So yeah! Those are the random things I’ve noticed from basically moving from the Mexican to Canadian border of the U.S.

-Jessica F.

Why a Met on Demand Subscription is Better Than Any Other Streaming Service

Have you heard of the Met Opera on Demand streaming service?! Let’s be real, probably not. But I know many people who have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to stream from… so I think this is might interest y’all, teens! It’s award-winning, recent, full length, HD performances from the Metropolitan Opera House. And it’s the best thing ever. Stop using Netflix. Cancel that Hulu subscription. Forget your Amazon Prime password. This is all you need in your life right now. Here’s why the Met Opera on Demand is better than any other streaming service.

1. You Can Learn a New Language

Operas are in English, Italian, French, German, and loads more languages! They have subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, and Swedish! Opera is slow and repetitive, so it’s a great way to learn languages! If you’re learning German, for example, it might be useful to have English subtitles on an opera like Die Zauberflöte (which side note is a beautiful production… it’s just so pretty to watch, it’s like watching a moving painting). You’ll understand all the German being sung with the English subtitles, and some new vocab might stick in your brain if it’s being sung in a catchy tune over and over. I think learning a language through song is a great way to learn new vocabulary, and get an ear for the language. “Comic operas” like Die Zauberflöte and Carmen even have spoken dialogue. The opera singers’ pronunciation is amazing when singing and speaking!

2. You Can Learn History

Opera loves to take place in ancient times, and tries to be as authentic to the time period as possible! When learning history, sometimes it’s hard to picture the time period. Watching an opera in the time period you’re learning about really helps you picture what you’re learning. Also, many operas are based on true stories. For example, there are three operas about Adrienne Lecouvreur, a French actress who mysteriously died in 1730. Or Boris Godunov, an opera about real events in 1584 surrounding a real Russian tsar. Or Doctor Atomic! It’s an opera about the test of the first atomic bomb. And all of these have full HD videos of the performances! There’s so much history to learn with this subscription.

3. You Can Learn About Books

Reading Shakespeare in school and struggling to picture the action? Well, Met on Demand has you covered! HamletMacbethA Midsummer Night’s Dream, and more are full-length operas that come with this subscription!

Der Ring des Nibelungen (although Tolkein denies it) is the basis for The Lord of the Rings. Don’t believe me?! Watch it on Met on Demand to see the shocking similarities.

The opera Marnie is based on the book that inspired the Hitchcock classic of the same name. (the 60s movie where the lady gets stabbed in the shower to strings going EEK EEK EEK).

There is also audio of operas based on The Great Gatsby and An American Tragedy, which are books titled of the same name.

If you look up the operas on the website, I’m sure you can find more book-related stuff.

4. It’s Relaxing

The Met’s performances are beautiful. The performances are visually dazzling, and the singing is world-renowned. It’s a nice thing to just have on quietly in the background. If the stunning video is too much, there are recordings dating back

-Jessica F.

Opera, Opera, Opera!

Would you pay $26 to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton on Broadway, live?

I know few Orange County friends who love opera, let alone are willing to see one. This may be because Orange County has few operas. I’ve been looking! The Segerstrom Center for the Arts has some performances, but Costa Mesa is pretty far. Moreover, it only has concert performances (full shows done without staging or costumes in front of an orchestra).

Recently, I discovered my favorite opera, Carmen, broadcasted live for free on the Santa Monica Pier from the LA Opera. The LA Opera is the grandest local opera house, and witnessing something this professional live was moving. Dancers were hired from the depths of Spain for a genuine Spanish vibe, and costumes shimmered and poofed in all their Spanish glory. Tickets are at least $90 for a “cheap” theatre seat, in which performers can barely be seen or heard; free showings are unheard of!

My friends and I zoomed to the pier and fangirled over the huge stage and thick French accents. The music can be found in our playlists; we hummed along the whole time. The opera is risqué, funny, and dazzling. If more people had access to opera in Orange County, I’m sure we could love and appreciate it the way this crowd did on the Santa Monica Pier. It was so enjoyable!

The Live at the Met series is broadcasting full operas live from the Metropolitan Opera House in most Regal movie theatres. This is the best opera house in the country! I’ve never seen a bigger stage, and the cameras show so much detail I can see reflections in the characters’ eyes. Tickets are around $26, with over 10 operas this year! More than the average movie ticket, but very cheap compared to live tickets, often at Hamilton prices ($855+). Only internationally famous and experienced singers have been cast! If you’re an opera fan like me or are ready to behold these regal performances, please come and support the art by attending. Few people know about it, but more should.

This is the same as $26 to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton live on Broadway, in the movie theatre!

The Orange County School of the Arts is also doing L’Enfant et Les Sortilèges in the spring, so look out for that!

Meanwhile, I will be hunting down local operas. I’m determined to find performances in Mission Viejo! Operas can be expensive, but I’m working on finding deals so teens can experience this difficult and powerful art form at an accessible price. I’ll keep you updated!

What local opera productions do you know of? Please comment to let me know!

-Jessica F.

Apparently, I Can’t Ride a Boat

On Saturday, August 12, from 3:30-6pm, my friends and I built a cardboard boat, and attempted to race it across the Sierra Recreation and Fitness Center Pool.

We were given two large, cardboard boxes, a roll of silver duct tape, and a new X-acto knife (in the package!). We had 60 minutes to mess around and figure out how on earth to get 16-year-old-me across a lap pool against kids a third of my size.

We decided a canoe shape would stand out aerodynamically and also look cool. We used a red pen to trace the outline of one cardboard box and had great ideas while listening to Hamilton. We made flaps to keep the edges together and coated it in duct tape.

Soon families began to cart their boats to the pool. Their boats looked very different from ours! We wondered if this was a good or bad thing. We looked back on our hard work and realized in our strategic placing of cardboard and duct tape, we had forgotten to include the other cardboard box! We hastily taped together supporting poles from the other box and hobbled the odd raft to the pool as an employee insisted we’d be disqualified in seconds.

We waited for our team name, Wrong Direction, to be called, and lined up on the bright poolside. I was the smallest, so I had been nominated to maneuver the raft. I was given a plastic, green shovel to navigate the treacherous water. How I was going to get in, I did not know. My friend etched the boat over the pool’s peak, and when he megaphone blared “GO!” I nervously put one foot in the boat and it instantly collapsed under my weight.

Laughing, I sunk into the chlorinated water and held onto the soggy, floating cardboard to try and recompose myself. The failure of our creation was magical and hilarious. It took me a while to stop giggling and not-so-gracefully heave myself out of the water. Wrong Direction did not care at all that our hard work and been reduced to mush because creating it and watching me sink (mainly watching me sink) was an as good as a reward as any.

We had so much fun, and will definitely be staying updated with the Sierra Recreation and Fitness Center’s activities, as I recommend you do as well.

-Jessica F.