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“Mom, can I eat one?”
It only took a few minutes of picking strawberries before my oldest son asked to eat a berry he’d just picked off the plant. That day, he ate almost as many as he put into the box we were carrying home.
This is just one reason I take my sons to pick strawberries at a local farm every week during the season, which usually lasts from mid-April through May here in North Carolina.
We pass the farm every day on our way to my son’s school. In the fall, we watched as workers planted strawberries. All winter, we watched the plants grow. During the late frosts, we watched as water sprayed over the plants, insulating the blooms and protecting the flowers from freezing temperatures. In spring, we are rewarded for our patience with fresh strawberries.
The first year I took my oldest son to pick strawberries, he threw more out of the box than he put in it. In his defense, he was only 2 or 3 years old. We were often the only ones in the field, with others choosing to buy prepicked berries.
It would certainly be easier – and quicker – to buy strawberries that had already been picked, but we’d miss out on so much. Not only are we supporting a local farm family, but also my kids are learning about a crop we don’t grow.
As we move down our chosen row of strawberry plants, the kids and I talk about which berries are fully red and ripe and which ones need more time.
We've looked at the seeds on the outside of each strawberry and talked about how farmers don't plant seeds but transplant cuttings to the field. My son still insists on trying to plant a few strawberry seeds from every box we pick.
Visiting the strawberry field gives my sons a chance to see the pollinators in action. They have watched bees buzz from flower to flower. We’ve talked about how the bees pollinate plants and collect nectar. I’ve pointed out the hives sitting along the side of the fields, and they know that’s where the worker bees are busy making honey. We count the flowers that will become strawberries and look for the small, green berries growing from the bud centers.
My boys know the plants are grown on plastic to help control weeds, conserve water, and keep the strawberries clean. This year, they wanted to know why there was hay on the ground between the rows. That led to a discussion about what the differences in hay and straw. We grow wheat on our farm, but don’t bale the straw, so they hadn’t made the connection. Now they know wheat stalk can be baled and used as mulch between the strawberry rows to keep weeds from growing.
Our box of strawberries doesn’t usually last more than a few days. With the season over, we’ll be counting down the days to next spring and checking to see if the seeds my son planted ever sprout.