Photo by Carol Ann Sayle
The beds are ready, but divided. Four beds at our rural farm in Milam County, and four more at the urban Austin farm. At 6:30 a.m., before dawn broke, Larry and his helpers stretched black plastic mulch over flat-topped raised beds that I and my helpers had prepared a few weeks ago. Shoveling soil to hold the edges of the plastic down, they were trying to beat the oncoming rain, which, if the beds were not quickly made, would delay the entire strawberry-planting endeavor.
The "mulch" is an ecological sin in our eyes, but weighed against the desires of parents and toddlers to be able to pick a fresh organic strawberry, a "red-red" one, out in the beautiful fresh sunshine of next spring, our scales tilted to the kids.
The mulch helps keep weeds off the berry plants, conserves water lost through evaporation beneath it, and speeds evaporation on top of it, thus reducing the chances of berries mushing-out in standing rain puddles.
The first year we grew strawberries, in 1994, we used saintly straw to mulch the plants, thinking the berries would sit atop this straw and be safe. It didn't work. The straw stayed damp and this led to white fungus on the berries and infestations of pill bugs and other tiny strawberry lovers. We lost 90 percent of the berries. The next year, in frustration, we gave in to the protection of plastic mulch, and had a great crop.