Monday, February 9, 2015

Happy belated 2015! Here's where we are with the strawberries!

Sorry, it's been a while since I've posted an update about my Aerogarden Strawberries. Lots going on in my life (don't worry, all good stuff), so keeping this blog up has been put a tad on the back burner. But rest assured, I'm still doing the indoor gardening, and I'm still documenting every step of the way so that you can share in my joy...and my misery :)

Honestly, you didn't miss much. I haven't bought any new air cleaning plants since my last post on the subject (sadly, the Areca Palm and the Gerbera Daisy both met their maker, but the others are doing quite well), Just when I thought my fungus gnat problem was gone at home and work, suddenly there was a whole new infestation--and this time Gnatrol didn't help (Unlike last time, the Amazon seller I bought it from this time gave it to me in a plastic baggie, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they're using an old batch. To their credit they agreed to refund my money, no questions asked--but watering the plant with an impotent tablespoon of Gnatrol just made the problem worse.

Ah, now to the strawberries. Here, you didn't miss much either. Since the last post, there was only one strawberry--one--that survived.

Now as you recall, one of my "dreams" was to grow enough indoor strawberries to make my own shortcake. Well, I have the "short" down right anyway. As in, I'm short of the number I wanted.

But it's been a learning experience. I pretty conclusively figured out that everything I said last November was on the mark, except perhaps for the temperature one. Specifically...

1) I'm not watering enough. Far and away, this is my #1 problem. I have gigantic, huge green leaves which are soaking up the light--and soaking up the water. I mean literally, I might go two days and find the reservoir almost completely dry. And what looked like a beautiful white flower a few days ago is just a dried up little stump, because the strawberry didn't have enough water to grow. So now, I literally am watering every single day.

2) I'm letting dead leaves overstay their welcome. I noticed a phenomenon where older leaves would turn brown. Turns out this is perfectly normal, and the best thing to do is the prune the leaves by cutting the stem near the root. This prevents the dying leaf from hogging up the resources, and gives a chance for new growth. Similarly, I've noticed that some of the crowns produce fewer and fewer leaves and then just stop growing. I've taken those out to make more room for the healthy ones.

3) I'm not pollinating enough. Aerogrow's instructions are to give the plants a "good shake" to pollinate them, but I've seen to many instances where the flowers give way to scrunched up, misformed fruits. I decided to make like a bee, take a Q-Tip, and go from flower to flower. That's helped a lot.

4) I'm not feeding right. Admittedly, I've let the unit go without a proper feeding for too long from time to time. Being fastidious about feeding is critical for plants staying healthy.

5) Those *%%^@#& fungus gnats. I find that they've gotten into the Aerogarden too. The good news is, the ones that have matured freak out every hour the upper basin start filling with water, and so I can vacuum them up with my Dyson handheld. I put a yellow trap that seems to catch them too. I'm not sure how many of the larvae can survive the continual cycle of watering and drying, but so far the plants seem to be winning.

Well, lo and behold, just doing these things a little more carefully has resulted in a sudden influx of flowers. In this picture you can see all the stages that happen when strawberry plants grow--you start with a white and yellow flower, then the white petals start to fall off and the middle yellow part (the stamen) starts to bulge and look like a tiny green strawberry. If all goes well, in a few days it'll get bigger and bigger, and finally start turning pink and then red.

This is a strawberry that looks like it wasn't pollinated quite can see it all scrunched up and not ripening as quickly as its high-achieving sibling.

On the other hand, this is one that I deliberately and carefully hand-pollinated from the time it was just a small flower. 

Again, here you can see some of its siblings, one still in flower form, while the other a tiny berry already. 

So, the time came to harvest my second successful Aerogarden strawberry. Here's what it looked like inside, again pretty much a perfect strawberry.

The strawberry was again amazingly juicy and really, really sweet.  I mean, this didn't need any sugar or cream--it was bursting with strawberry flavor.

My only regret is that in three months, I only have two strawberries to show for it. So my dream of building a victory garden that would sustain me in my apartment if I were to be snowed in or Y2K were to hit...that'll still have to wait. But at the very least, here's hoping that all those flowers you see in the picture above will yield at least enough for me to make a strawberry shortcake cupcake :)