I took extra pains this year to minimize the carnage to my strawberry crop trying to anticipate every pest that could strip my plants clean of the berries we so much covet this time of year. I cleaned the beds of all detritus in the early spring to minimize any fungal diseases. I then sprinkled iron phosphate pellets, which act as a stomach poison for slugs and snails by damaging their digestive tracts eventually causing their death. I then put straw around the strawberry plants so that the berries would not rot on the damp soil. Finally I encircled the bed with bird netting so that even a tiny finch could not find its way into the area. The gate’s latch and slats have been fixed so either a skinny Peter Rabbit or fat woodchuck would be thwarted.
But I never considered Charlotte.
Charlotte has become my trusty garden helper coming every day to water, weed and harvest when needed. One of her first stops in the vegetable garden has historically been my thriving sorrel patch. She walks over, grabs a few leaves with her tiny hands and then shoves the mass into her open jaw. A plump mouth full of Rumex acetosa is worked as would a baseball player a gob of chewing tobacco and then swallowed (unlike a baseball player); she often goes back for seconds. But now her attentions have turned toward another area of my garden: the strawberry patch.
Charlotte didn’t realize what tasty treasures were growing under the veil of netting until we found the first strawberry of the season around a week ago. It was a tiny orange heirloom sample that was barely ripe but perfect in all other ways. I asked Charlotte if she wanted to get it.
And with that first but tiny offering our little strawberry monster was born.
Now every day we need to check the garden at least twice to see if any new berries have ripened. Charlotte is a much better berry spotter than I as I need to bend down and try to look through the leaves to spot the red berries. I’m not very good and I miss a lot. Charlotte, on the other hand, can easily look through the stems with the precision of a trained berry picker or as a young Superman would with X-ray vision.
“Pompi, strawberry there,” she says pointing out where she spots her next snack.
“Where Charlotte? I can’t see it?”
“There Pompi,” she replies pointing her right index finger toward the soon to be grabbed fruit.
And she is always right. Behind the leaves is a nice red strawberry.
While Charlotte often helps me with harvests, when it comes to strawberries, she is more apt to help herself. Her tiny hands can fit under the netting in ways a chipmunk can not. And the tiniest berries can be extracted through the netting with her delicate little fingers. She misses nothing in the strawberry patch. These little harvests are popped into her mouth quickly while larger specimens have a slightly greater chance to be sampled by either Juana or myself if we can get a bite in before she clamps her teeth on the remaining morsel.
It’s early days in the strawberry patch but I think this will be another year where Juana and I will get less than our full share. But this time it doesn’t matter as much.