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Very Well-Manured Strawberries

ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARILYNNE ROACH

The ad said, “Wanted: Caretaker for home on six acres in Alexander Valley, help with the gardens. Free rent. Call Helen.” Free rent! I arrived promptly for the interview with six-month-old and kindergarten boys in tow. Helen inquired, “Have you had garden experience?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “I’m an experienced gardener.” (I helped tend my mom’s tomato plant when I was ten, didn’t I?) Helen and her husband were San Francisco attorneys who came up to the Alexander Valley property infrequently. This would be a piece of cake!

One of the first tasks Helen asked me to complete involved driving a two-ton flatbed to the dairy outside Santa Rosa for a load of manure. “Just dump it on the strawberry patch,” she instructed.

Nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. Have you ever juggled a toddler, a baby, and a stick-shift on a narrow, winding road? When I pulled up to the dairy, the farmer took off his hat, scratched his head, and said, “You want what?” (This was 30 years ago. I guess manure lovers weren’t that common then.)

Back at the ranch, I backed the truck to the strawberry patch and dumped the manure. As soon as the fragrant, brown pyramid covered the plants, I began to question if Helen meant for me to literally “dump the fertilizer” on them. I called myself derogatory names, grabbed a shovel, and furiously dug the plants out of that mess. Then I spread the manure evenly throughout the bed, as I should have done in the first place—and proceeded to dust the evidence off the suffocating plants.

The strawberry yield was down that season (for some reason), but the strawberry field did technically survive.

Thank goodness Helen and Don were none the wiser!

This article was published originally in 2019, in GreenPrints Issue #118.


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