Column: Strawberry crops lighter in this area

Published 9:10 am Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our extremely dry weather last fall appears to have had an effect on the strawberry crop that is presently being harvested. Weather conditions last August, September and October affected the bud formation for this year and is believed to be part of the reason for a smaller-than-normal strawberry crop. In addition, the unusually hot and dry March, followed by freezing temperatures in April, after the strawberries had already begun blossoming, caused additional damage. Temperatures over 90 degrees when the berry is beginning to form can also cause a condition called “bronzing,” where the berry does not develop properly. Certain varieties seem to be more susceptible to this condition. The berries will be smaller than normal, more seedy looking and have a bronze appearance, rather than the normal bright red. The berries can however be used, and actually taste pretty good.

Our lack of subsoil moisture both last fall and this season also is affecting the local rhubarb crop. Many people are complaining about their rhubarb not doing well this year, which also appears to be due to the lack of moisture. If you are having this problem, the solution appears to be to get out the hose and keep it adequately watered. Working in a little compost or fertilizer around the base of the plant would also be a good idea. By next season, hopefully your rhubarb plants will have returned to normal, but for this year, if your plant looks bad, you may want to not harvest any stalks and just try to get the plant back into a healthy condition for next year.

In spite of the shortage of rain in our area this spring, the gardens and field crops are doing fairly well, although I could see that the field corn the week was beginning to show a little drought stress (slightly curled leaves). I have been trying to water quite a bit of my garden, but there is nothing like a good rain to perk things up, and I hope we get a good soaking rain this week.

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Farmers market notes

Our next big special event at the Farmers Market will be the Downtown Strawberry Festival on June 30 when our entire market will set up from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m on a closed portion of Broadway Avenue. The downtown merchants are planning a lot of fun and exciting things for this event, including kiddie train rides, wagon rides, special food vendors and lots more. The Farmers Market will be serving fresh strawberry and raspberry sundaes, so be sure to indulge your taste buds by having one of those! In the meantime, remember we are at our regular lot each Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. and each Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. I saw the first new potatoes, cabbage and raspberries at the market last Saturday. New things are coming to the market each week now, with green beans coming soon! You will always find home-baked goodies, fresh eggs, meats, honey, jams and jellies, pickles, salsa, and other canned foods, candies, specialty coffees and lots of crafts. Our vendor who sharpens knives and scissors plans to be there on June 16 and June 30.

If you have an EBT/SNAP card, bring it to the market to get the matching first $5 in extra free food each market day. And free bus rides are provided on Wednesday by Albert Lea Transit (sponsored by Mayo Clinic Health System). Call Joanne at 379-1111 for bus information.


Produce of the week: Peas

Peas have been around since ancient times and were probably used in the dried form at that time. By the 16th century, more tender kinds were developed, and they were then begun to be used in their fresh form. I personally like to eat them fresh right while picking them in the garden. They will lose their natural sweetness after picking, and do need to be refrigerated and used as soon as possible, to avoid having the natural sugars turn to starch.

There are three basic types of peas: the regular type that you shell out of the pods; the sugar snap where you eat the pod and peas; and the snow peas that are picked while the pods are flat and before the peas inside are developed. When preparing sugar snap peas, you will want to snap off the tip that was attached to the vine and remove any strings along the edge of the pod before using. The rest is all edible. When cooking any kind of peas, be sure not to cook very long.

Peas are in the legume family, along with beans and lentils. They provide good amounts of Vitamin A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, potassium, dietary fiber and some protein, and are low-calorie.

Peas do best in cool weather, and can be one of the first things planted in your garden. They will tolerate light frosts, but do not do well in very hot weather.


Creamed potatoes with peas

1 pound small, new red potatoes

2 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 Tablespoons flour

l-1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dill weed

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1-1/2 cup milk

1-1/2 cup peas (shelled out and cooked a couple minutes)

Cook potatoes (cutting larger ones, if desired) for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a saucepan, combine onion and butter, cooking until onion is tender. Blend in flour, salt, dill and pepper. Stir in milk, mixing well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil one minute, and add potatoes and peas. Heat through and serve.


Snow pea and pork stir fry

1/2 pound boneless pork

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 Tablespoons soy sauce, divided

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

3 cups snow peas

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup broth or water

Cut pork into short 1/4-inch strips. Combine cornstarch and one Tablespoon soy sauce. Stir in pork strips and marinate 20 to 30 minutes. Heat two tablespoons oil in large skillet and add peas. Stir fry two minutes and remove from skillet. Heat remaining oil and stir fry pork until lightly browned. Add broth and cover and cook two minutes. Add peas, remaining soy sauce and sugar. Stir until heated through.


See you at the farmers market!


“Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them.” — Jeremiah 29:5.


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.