Planting and harvesting strawberries for tea making
There are hundreds of varieties of strawberries, so choose one suitable to your location and climate. There are three main types: "June-bearing," "everbearing," and "day-neutral" varieties. June-bearing, or "summer bearers," yield the largest fruits over a short period of time. They are divided further into Early Season, Mid Season, and Late Season. "Everbearing," "Alpine," or "Wild" strawberries can produce very small fruit twice a year, once in the spring and again in the late summer . They do not tend to produce runners like the June-bearing varieties. Day-neutral or "perpetual" varieties produce lots of fruit over a long period of warm weather, but the fruit can be smaller than June-bearing varieties. Strawberry leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit can all be used to make tea .
Homegrown strawberries are very nutritious and contain lots of vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. Strawberries are believed to help with fevers, infections, fainting, and depression. They are an antioxidant and can help the liver as well as help alleviate digestive problems.
1 Start in early spring
Strawberry seeds can be slow to germinate, so I recommend starting off with small plants. It is ideal to buy your strawberry plants in the early spring so you have the full growing season ahead of you. Don't plant strawberries where you previously planted potatoes, peppers, or tomatoes, as these can harbor disease within the soil. Strawberries need full sun and well-drained soil.
2 Sheltered position
They also need a fairly sheltered position so that bees and insects can easily pollinate the flowers. Mix some homemade compost or other humus into the soil where the strawberries are to be planted. Make a hole and place the plant so that the crown (the part from which the stems are growing) is at the same level as the earth. You can plant in a mound of soil to help raise the crown to the correct level. Use a mulch of straw around the plants, to help prevent slug damage and to keep the fruit clean and dry.
3 Maintain strawberries
Water well, especially when the fruits are ripening. Keep the area around your strawberries free of weeds so they do not take any goodness away from your plants. Strawberries will flower in the spring. If a late spring frost is forecast and your strawberries have flowers on them, place a horticultural fleece or light sheet over the plants for the night. Remove it the next morning or when the frost has passed. If the frost kills the flowers, you will not get any strawberries.
4 Feed with organic fertilizer
Feed your plants once a month through out the summer with an organic fertilizer such as seaweed or bonemeal.
5 Protecting strawberries
If birds are stealing your fruit, cover your strawberries with netting. Growing strawberries in containers helps to keep the slugs away. Make sure you fill your container with enough potting soil that the strawberry crown is level with the top of the container, so that when the fruit form they can hang over the edge. They do well in hanging baskets as long as they are given enough water. If you live in a cold climate and the temperature drops below 5ºF (-15ºC), you should cover your strawberry plants with 4 to 6 inches of straw for the winter. Clear off the straw in the spring so the plants can begin growing again. You are encouraged to remove the first year's flowers to promote a bumper crop in the second year, but I have never managed to bring myself to do this! Most strawberry plants produce runners or stolons, which are long stems that grow out and away from the plant. New baby plants develop along the runners, and when they come in contact with the earth, roots grow. These can be separated from the parent plant and potted to make new plants.
6 Replacing the strawberry plant
Strawberry plants become less productive as they get older, so you should replace four-year-old plants. Strawberries are susceptible to many pests and diseases such as slugs, leaf blight, and mildew. To help prevent some of these, make sure you choose a more disease-resistant variety to start off with. Mulch around the plants with straw and make sure the plants have good airflow around them, and change their location every few years to prevent the build-up of disease. Keep a close eye on the plant, so you can act quickly if disease is detected.
1 Pick the strawberries when they are bright red and firm. You can use the young leaves and stems for tea, alongside the fresh fruit.
2 Slice the fruit, leaving the stems on, and tear up some fresh leaves to enjoy a cup of fresh strawberry tea.
Tip: To be able to have strawberry tea throughout the year, you need to dry the plant. Slice the fruit and pull them off their stems and wash well. Chop up the leaves and dry them in the air, a dehydrator, or an oven. Store the fruits and the leaves separately in sealed glass containers in a dry and dark cupboard until needed.
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Excerpted from Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting and Blending Teas and Tisanes by Cassie Liversidge. Recipes Copyright © 2014 Cassie Liversidge. Photography copyright © Cassie Liversidge. Excerpted by permission of Cassie Liversidge and St. Martins Griffin. All Rights Reserved.