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!

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers is the second book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy known as The Lord of the Rings.  The first half focuses on Aragorn and the remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring.  The second half focuses on Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee as they try to reach Mordor.  The book includes various subplots, and many characters and places, so it may seem difficult to keep track of everything.  However, the story is very gripping and worth the effort to read.

Some of my favorite characters in this book are the Ents.  The Ents are like tree people.  Two of the little hobbits, Pippin and Merry, encounter an Ent named Treebeard after escaping a group of savage orcs.  Treebeard, like other Ents, is very tall and strong.  He moves very slowly because he does not like to be “too hasty.”  The Ents are usually gentle creatures, but they can become powerful warriors if aroused to battle.  I enjoy reading about these creatures because they are like trees come to life.

Treebeard takes Pippin and Merry to a tower controlled by Saruman.  Saruman is a wizard who was once good.  He is one of my favorite characters in the trilogy, even though we learn that he has become bad.  His voice is described as low and melodious, and he is able to enchant and trick people.  He appears to be full of wisdom, which enables him to gain many followers.  This character is a very accurate portrayal of how a wicked person can deceive many people.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam are traveling with the One Ring toward Mordor, an evil land where orcs and many unnamed horrors roam.  They are guided by Gollum, a savage little thing that was once a hobbit, but has become corrupted by the ring.  Frodo and Sam form an uneasy alliance with Gollum after taming him, even though he still lusts for the ring.  The ring grants its wearer invisibility, but it also slowly overpowers its owner.  The ring is designed to get back to its creator, the evil Sauron.  Sauron is in the form of an eye on a tower in Mordor, always searching for his ring, which would give him unlimited power.

This book is a great story about the dangers of greed and power.  It also includes many surprises and plot twists.  The end of the book is a sort of cliffhanger, so I would recommend that readers read the entire trilogy in sequence.  The Two Towers is a great book on its own, but it should definitely be read along with the other books in the trilogy.

-Oliver H. 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Spaceland Review

Spaceland, produced by Tortuga Team, is a dynamic strategy game. It follows the old school tactical game genre which requires skill as well as planning. The story follows a team of desperate fighters that have crash-landed on a mysterious planet. You need to help these heroes fight their way through dangerous monsters and enemies to help them discover the secrets of the perplexing world. The game has multiple types of enemies, objectives, weapons, and heroes. Each hero can help out the team in different ways.  You can mix and match different heroes with each other to make the most powerful and optimal teams for each mission.

The actual game itself is very simple. Your team is assigned a certain mission, and once you complete that mission you go onto the next quest. Each of these missions does not take too long, and you are usually trying to complete an objective such as rescuing a soldier or destroying a monster. The controls for the game are also quite simple. There are a certain amount of moves that each hero has, as well as a certain amount of ammo and health. Throughout the missions, you can move your character across the game grid. After you use a certain amount of moves, the enemies have a chance to move around the board and attack you. This forces players to tactfully move around the map, watching the different opponents and their movements. The graphics of Spaceland are also quite simple but are very clean. They are both cartoonish and futuristic, giving off a chill, relaxed, vibe.

On top of different objectives and controls, there is also a wide variety of heroes that you can unlock. You can unlock heroes throughout the 28 missions in the game. Each of these heroes has special abilities such as grenades, automatic rifles, etc. These special powers are quite valuable during different missions. The broad assortment of heroes also brings a large range of weaponry to the game. Snipers, shotguns, assault rifles, are just a few examples of the collection in the weapon inventory. Each weapon also has a different rate of fire, damage, range, etc. This diversity can lead to a great amount of customization and creativity in tactics as well as teams.

Overall, I enjoyed Spaceland made by the Tortuga Team. The simple but yet classic tactic game really was nostalgic for me, especially since I played a lot of those games when I was younger. There were some improvements that could be added to enhance the game. When you first start the game, there is no option to adjust the screen stretch of the game, so the game did not fully fit my TV screen, not allowing me to see what was at the bottom of the screen. Also, there was not a tutorial at the beginning of the game, but that was ok because of the simple and easy controls. The final adjustment I would make is to add a multiplayer option of some sort. I found that some of the missions were somewhat repetitive, so the game could become boring at some point. Besides those few minor improvements, I really enjoyed Spaceland and would rate it a 9/10.

-Daniel C.

Authors We Love: Ruta Sepetys

Ruts Sepetys is one of the most well known young adult historical fiction authors ever! With historical fiction being my favorite genre, I consider myself proud to say that Ruta Sepetys is my favorite author of all time. I have read all of the books she has written and I consider every single one of them to be some of my favorite books. 

Unlike many historical fiction authors, she doesn’t exclusively write about one event in history. With a setting like New Orleans, Barcelona, and Siberia, Sepetys takes us into a plethora of historical events, with different time periods, people, and settings. 

One specific thing I love about historical fiction is you learn something along the way, and all of Ruta Sepetys writes about overlooked events in history. These aren’t things you learn from your history textbook, they’re much more than that. Her books take you on a journey through events like the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that took 10 times the lives the Titanic did, and is the biggest maritime disaster of all time. But for some unknown reason, nobody talks about it, except for Sepetys.

Not only does she shed these huge historical events to light, but she does also these events justice. Although what she writes is fiction, the historical events they’re based on are all too real. Sepetys does an amazing job of research. In her most recent novel, The Fountains of Silence, the back of the book offered more details about her writing and research process, as well as pages of her notes. Sepetys do years and years of research for just one novel, and by reading the books you can tell how much effort was put into them. 

As for her World War Il novels, she has interviewed countless figures, both strangers and family, that were involved in those events, and based some of her books off of real events her family has gone through. 

Another part that I really love about her books is her writing style. With short and quick chapters, the writing allows you to be constantly engaged. The constant point of view switches keep you on your toes and makes every single one of her books a page-turner.

Between Shades of Gray (2011): Not your everyday World War 2 novel, Between Shades of Gray shows the dark side of Polish deportation and labor camps. With a knowledgeable protagonist and a family trying not to fall apart in the face of war, this brutal novel is a must-read. My Rating: 9/10

Out of the Easy (2013): Out of the Easy is a novel describing the life of the daughter of a prostitute longing to be free and live her own life outside of the bustling city of New Orleans. When a customer at her bookstore is found dead, she finally finds the escape she’s been looking for. My Rating: 7/10

Salt to the Sea (2016): The biggest maritime disaster, and the long path refugees are forced to take to flee Germany, this story tells the tale no one wishes to tell about World War 2.  In this novel, everyone has a secret to tell, and with them come guaranteed tears. My Rating: 10/10

The Fountains of Silence (2019): the Fountains of Silence tells the unknown story of how the Spanish people recovered after their own civil war. Told through the eyes of a photographer tourist from Texas, and a hotel employee who works hard for every penny she earns. This novel shows the trials and tribulations of most families during the reconstruction, but the star of this novel is truly the romance. Greatest of all, you get to learn about what’s really happening with the Spanish government behind closed doors. My Rating: 9/10

-Asli B. 

The works of Ruta Sepetys are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Adding More Scientific Realism to Sci-Fi in Space: Star Wars The Clone Wars

How Just a Bit of Realism In Your Story can Deepen Your World and Enthrall Your Reader

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV Series 2008–2020) - IMDb

Last summer, I spent many late nights toying with the idea of a space novel. There were so many questions I had, so many things I wanted to know about the world I was attempting to create, and at times I had no idea where to begin.

As school began and I got busy, my space novel project got worked on less, but I kept world-building in small ways when inspiration came.

Now, on this extended break from school, I have had much more time freed up. One of the things I have done with that time is watch Star Wars The Clone Wars, which is, in my opinion, an incredible expansion to the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars The Clone Wars TV show was one of the many space-fiction stories that inspired my story. Star Wars is something almost everyone, even someone who isn’t a fan, will recognize as trendsetting space fiction. It was a pop culture phenomenon at its birth and continues to be today. I have always loved the light-saber as a weapon, the many well developed characters, and the expansive galaxy enriched by each new location we visit in the franchise.

Through my writer’s eye, I saw the show in a whole new light. With many different military groups, independent systems, the Republic and the Separatists, the Trade Federation and each different type of planetary government, it is an incredible example of how intergalactic politics might work!

While the plot, characters, and lore remain interesting, and model-worthy as well, I did notice a pattern of something missing. Let’s face it, if there is anything this show lacks, it is the realistic elements of science that pull the reader, or watcher, deeper into a new and different world.

Science fiction doesn’t necessarily have to be very realistic, but some great science fiction (Adrift by Rob Boffard and The Martian for example) have used more realistic depictions of other worlds and future technology to make us believe we are reading something that could truly happen in the future, or is happening in a faraway galaxy.

The Clone Wars, for me, raised many questions about some scientific things not fully explained, or certain elements of the “realism” in the story that if tweaked or expanded upon, might make your story much more realistic and appealing. So without further ado, here’s my writing tips takeaway!

Firstly, how do species on different planets evolve, it seems very unlikely they could all be humanoid, get creative! More creatures like Jabba the Hut! This also rings true for making planets at different stages of carrying life, maybe not all planets your character visits have sentient life forms yet. Keeping with life forms, many planets in this show seem to have only one environment. While that can be cool, remember how diverse Earth is! Depending on how you write your story, a planet with multiple environments and lots of different flora and fauna will certainly enrich the story.

Speaking of planets, perhaps the biggest thing that takes me out of the story in this show is the fact that every planet our Jedi heroes visit appears to have the same atmosphere composition, gravity, and relative temperature. Not even two planets in our solar system have the same gravity or atmosphere.

Instead of ignoring these scientific elements, use them! Create a challenge for your characters and interesting worlds with limited gravity that causes cities to be tethered to the planet! Create technology that filters nitrogen or sulfur-rich air so it is breathable. Have suits that need to be worn by your characters in certain acidic or too hot/cold planets for survival. Play around with the environment, and show how your characters would adapt!

Some more questions to ask; How do the conditions of a certain planet affect how life there has developed if there is life? What would an organism from that planet need to survive if it left? How would a sentient being from a specific planet talk, based on air composition (guttural, high pitched, etc.)? Are there different languages, different races, and cultures on each planet? The more diverse a planet, the more real I find it becomes to the reader/watcher.

These are many of the major questions Star Wars The Clone Wars made me ask about my own book, and they inspire a lot of creative thinking for world-building. For my fellow aspiring writers, perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer is to constantly ask questions about the things you write about, challenge the way you think about things to broaden your creativity, and don’t hesitate to add flair and detail to the world you are creating.

-Sebastian E.

Star Wars books, films, and television shows are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. Additional material can be found online for free through Overdrive

Special Feature: Face Mask Tutorial

This is a tutorial on how to make a facemask. Hopefully making these will help protect us while keeping the important PPE to the medical workers who really need it. This design was made by me and is in no way made to replace a real surgical mask or n95. However, for the everyday citizen who does eventually have to venture to the grocery store and leave the house, these are great for an extra line of defense. 

These can be made with any type of fabric however, the CDC recommends cotton, and 100% quilters cotton seems to have the tightest weave, giving the most protection. Though, any cotton t-shirt will also do. 

For this design, I choose to not make a pocket for a filter. This was a personal decision and some may feel safer with a pocket. However, the HEPA filters which many are using for their filters, contain fiberglass which when breathed in can damage the lungs. So, even the maker of these filters is not advising consumers to use them for masks. There is a possibility that it will be dangerous. 

This design was made with help from my father who is an MD however, this is in no way certified, I just used his opinion as he is someone who wears facemasks often. As well, he wears glasses so, these were designed to specifically NOT fog up glasses. They are also made to be as comfortable as possible for long time wear. So, this design may take longer to make than many out there. But, this was for a reason. As many of us are making them for our friends and family to reuse over and over again until this pandemic is over, I believed that spending some extra time on the masks to make them comfortable was important. For, if the masks are not comfortable, we will not want to wear them. So these will take some time to make. Especially the first time. Most of those tutorials online are not as fast as they seem. 

As a side note, I choose to make fabric straps. These are the most comfortable for long time wear. However, these can easily be changed out for elastic or other straps for those who do not want to spend the time to make them. 

So, if this seems like the design for you, here are the steps. I tried to make them as comprehensible as possible. As I know many of the tutorials out there are not user friendly for those who do not have a large amount of sewing experience. 

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The Top Five Books to Escape Isolation

The top five books that I think would make isolation move by faster are The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Kira-Kira, Harry Potter And The Sorcerers Stone, and Once.

The Hunger Games is my number one choice because it is one of the most well-written books that I have ever read. The book’s main character is Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl, that is chosen for the reaping. She has to compete against twenty-four other opponents to be able to live in peace. Her one problem though is that she has to kill everyone to win. This book is very descriptive and paints a vivid picture inside your head.

Next, my second book choice would be The Maze Runner. This is because the book has so many twists and turns that it just compels you to read more. The Maze Runner is about a boy named Thomas whose memory has been wiped clean. He is surrounded by boys whose memories have also been wiped and their main goal is to find a way out. The main problem though is that they have to make it past the grievers. Grievers are big metal machines that kill mercilessly.

Kira-Kira is a heartwarming book about a girl and her family. This book is about a Japanese girl named Kate whose moving to Iowa because her father’s store shut down. Now she is forced to live in a small apartment in Georgia while her parents work in a Japanese power plant. This story demonstrates family virtues, kindness, and friendship. I highly recommend this book.

Harry Potter and The Sorcerers Stone is a novel about a boy named Harry who lives with a rude and unkind family named the Dursley’s. Then, Harry finds out that he is a wizard and joins a school of witchcraft and wizardry named Hogwarts. Harry makes friends and foes along his way. I recommend this book because the book takes your mind to a whole different world that shows that everything is possible.

My last and final book is Once. This book is a thrilling and nerve-racking story about a boy named Felix who is escaping the Nazis. As he is on the run, he makes a friend named Zelda, a four-year-old girl. Morris Gleitzman writes this story in a way that makes you feel as if you are in the book with them. In conclusion, this book is also highly recommended.

In conclusion, if you want to escape your boring days of isolation I highly recommend these five books. They will not only exercise your brain, but they will transport you to a whole new world.

-Veronica S.