Strawberry season and other gifts from Nature
It's almost June, so that means strawberries. I'm no longer growing large-fruited cultivated strawberries in my garden, just wild strawberries in my front yard as a groundcover. An in-ground strawberry patch takes up a lot of space and it's only productive for a small part of the year. While there are ingenious space-saving options out there for growing strawberries at home, I've decided that I have other priorities. Instead, I'll just purchase strawberries at farmers markets and pick-your-own farms when they are in season...which is now! The list I created last year for pick-your-own strawberry farms is still good and many of the listed farms are already open for picking. I'm also particularly excited about the Sandy Spring Museum Strawberry Festival this weekend. (For store-bought strawberries, I prefer them frozen, as they are picked at their peak of ripeness. Frozen strawberries make yummy smoothies.)
I titled this post "...and other gifts from Nature" because some of what's currently growing in my garden I didn't plant. Take a look at these sunflowers:
I didn't plant these sunflowers, the birds did. I set out birdfeeders over the fall and winter and kept them filled with a wild bird seed mix. Some of the sunflower seeds must have found enough soil to grow in the narrow crevice between my concrete patio and the chain-link fence. Since they seem quite content to grow here with no attention from me, I'm content to accept them as gifts from Nature.
I also didn't plant the clover that has now entirely colonized the paths between my raised beds. I used to mulch the paths with wood chips to suppress weeds. But when I saw clover appearing in clumps last spring and summer, I stopped mulching and let the clover be. And now the clover has fully taken over the paths, out-competing all the other weeds. It doesn't grow tall enough that I need to mow it. In spots where it grows a little taller than I'd prefer, I just stomp around a little harder. So yes, it also tolerates foot traffic. As a living groundcover, it offers habitat for good bugs, its flowers offer pollen and nectar as bug food sources, and its leaves are food for Sulphur butterfly larvae. Plants in the legume family are known to fix nitrogen in the soil, so the clover also increases the availability of nutrients in my garden. And sometimes, when a groundhog comes to visit, it eats its fill of clover and entirely leaves my vegetables alone. The only possible downside is that since I'm no longer mulching with wood chips, I'm no longer seeing any King Stroph mushrooms. But in exchange for all of the ecosystem services that clover provides for free, I'll take it.
In past seasons, I've intentionally planted dill, cilantro, and parsley, but now I no longer have to. Because I let these herbs flower and go to seed, they self-sow and come back all on their own. As long as they don't overcrowd the other veggies I planted, I keep them wherever they happen to sprout. When the herbs get too big or too close, I pick them and eat them. Belonging to the carrot family, the flowers of dill, cilantro, and parsley nourish good bugs with their pollen and nectar while the leaves are larval food sources for Swallowtail butterflies.
I intentionally planted the chile peppers and collard greens in this bed, but the dill and cilantro seen here are volunteers, as is the clover in the paths seen in the background.