Hudson Valley Strawberry Picking + A Lesson in Strawberry Propagation

{early bloomers, 'florence' cultivar}

I’ll be the first to admit I still have a lot to learn about gardening. It would help to read up on the truths learned from the gardeners that have gone before me, but it's much more fun (and memorable) to learn as I go, successes and failures alike well-earned.

My first garden trials began around the age of 6. That was the year that the strawberry plants that crept up under the fence from our neighbor's yard stopped producing fruit. It was one of the great tragedies of my childhood.

I had no idea what caused this misfortune to my budding farmstead, but this I knew, we would have strawberries again. One truth guided me: each fruit has a seed from which it came. So, I started collecting the tiny strawberry seeds from our Saturday shortcakes and planting them —  plus whole berries and bitten off caps for good measure—all over the yard. I guess I was never destined to uncover the great mysteries of science. When they never grew, I cut my losses and started planting peach pits instead.


Last weekend, when I admired our neighbors Cal and Mary's new hanging strawberry plants, they offered us their runners. I accepted enthusiastically. Though, it dawned on me, I still didn’t really know a lick about propagating strawberries. You don't buy strawberry seeds in the stores like radishes and carrots. I did know that once you have an established plant, growing strawberries is pretty easy. One plant quickly sends out runners and multiplies into three or four, proved by my hearty patch of fragaria vesca (alpine strawberries) in our city plot that started with just two tiny plants several years ago. So creating our own prolific patch from a few runners upstate, I assumed, was easy as easy as strawberry pie. Throw those babies into some soil and poof, fresh berries all summer long. 

Before I had a chance to read up on my latest agricultural theory, Cal brought over 10 leggy runners.
I habitually put herb cuttings from my garden, like basil, and chocolate mint, in big Ball jars of water on the counter until they grow roots, then give them or replant the rooted offspring in the soil to great success. I assumed the strawberry runners would work the same way. They looked healthy and robust, so I tossed them into an enamel tub with water to soak while I did some reading.

Imaging my disappointment when I read (on the BBC Gardening Guide, a trusted source) that to propagate a strawberry plant, you must first plant the runners in a pot or the ground while still attached to the mother plant. Then, when the offspring have hearty roots and new growth, cut them from the mother and transplant.


Undeterred, I left the runners in their tub with water over the week while we headed back to the city. When we returned, the runners all had 1/2 to 1-inch roots growing into the water and new, healthy leaves. There's hope for them yet. We planted them in the soil that day, and I promise to report my findings back here (and to the BBC).

Since we won't expect them to fruit until next summer, we were thrilled when G's friend Ruby and her parents invited us to go strawberry picking at Kelder's Farm, part way between our house and theirs.

{josh + ruby, kelder's farm, route 209}

There's plenty of u-pick farms in Duchess and Ulster counties, a perfectly drivable distance from the city for folks who want to taste strawberries straight from the vine. And I highly recommend you do. This four quart bushel below, picked by our budding homesteader (with lots of help from mamma) was mostly gone in a day, piled on top of whole wheat waffles for breakfast, stirred into Greek yogurt with a sprinkling of brown sugar for dessert and eaten up by the handful every hour in between.

{greta, kelder's farm, route 209}

Don't miss out. Go forth, and pick. Here's where: 

Route 209
Kerhonkson, NY 12446
(845) 626-7137
Farm market, U-pick Produce

5100 Rt. 209
Accord, NY 12404
Apple Grower, Roadside Stand, Cider

Oh, and by the way. strawberry plants only produce fruit for about 5 years. If yours stop producing fruit one day, don't go planting peach pits (that doesn't work either). Let those runners run and give new life to your patch.


you say tomato, i say to-ma-to

{photo by john kernick}

In most parts of the country, there's still time to plant tomatoes. just a little. you could beat the probability of paying three dollars a pound for your summer stash by just a tiny, thin little hair if you put in some seedlings in your soil today. or maybe even tomorrow. need some inspiration? check out this photo of the wonderous world of heirloom tomatoes by photographer john kernick. the full photo accompanies Andrea Reusing's musing on the beloved tomato sandwich in her new book,  Cooking in The Moment, one of this season's very best. 


confessions of a weed grower

{greta, two coves community garden}

I have a confession to make. My garden is a stage 4 disaster zone. Somewhere between writing this article for Mothering Magazine about gardening with babes, and picking our first radish, Greta outgrew the Moby wrap, started exerting her desire to be on the constant move, adamantly opposing any activity relating to riding against my chest while I pulled weeds. She's riding the fine line between barely sitting and crawling, a girl almost on the move with no time anymore for the sweet sway of my movements lulling her to sleep. 

Earlier, when she was, I eagerly planted rows of strawberries, lettuces and kale, spinach, radishes, and for good measure, a haphazard sprinkling of of Save the Bees flower mix. That was fairly easy, with 5-month-old Greta in her pouch, her arms yet too small and tucked into my chest to cause a wake.

Recently, we were away from the garden for almost two weeks and when we returned and I saw the mess that had become of it, my heart sank. That night Andras saw sadness in my eyes that I couldn't explain. This place of peace and perfection in my former life was now overgrown with weeds. I felt like I was looking upon a home I had built with my own two hands, now abandoned. 

In that moment in the garden, I learned two of life's harder parenting lessons. First, as a mamma, you have less time, which at times makes it imperative to weed out the unnecessary. Maybe its too much to run a business, rebuild a house, cook our meals from scratch and grow our own food in cultivated rows. Maybe instead of growing eight varieties of tomatoes and seven kinds of lettuces, one or two would do.

Second, this is the beginning of me learning to live with imperfection, in the garden and elsewhere. To embrace the chaos, and watch this garden become an environment for Greta's enjoyment and learning, not mine. 

Now that she's sitting and crawling, I can sit curious Greta amongst the wild flowers (indistinguishable from either the edibles or weeds) and let her pull and touch whatever she wishes. It's not perfect, but our girl knows the smell of fresh mint and lavender. She knows the taste of a strawberry we grew ourselves, and of carrot puree made from scratch (even if it took a near-epic excavation to find those carrots beneath it all!)

We won't have a tremendous amount of food from our garden this year. It's is no longer a place of accomplishment, but humility. Of forgiveness. Of letting go. It's a place for a new kind of peace--probably a more lasting one --the peace of excepting life just as it is, and seeing the beauty in every imperfect detail. 

the gardener of invention

{kristen + pocket the chicken, kerhonkson, ny}

By their very nature, gardeners tend to a resourceful bunch. I love that about them. And urban or rural, if you've got the itch to grow, you'll likely find any place possible to house your seed and soil. Most recycled wood containers—think milk crates, old sand boxes or a bookshelf turned on its side (above)—make pretty good starter raised beds (and chicken playgrounds), and will save you bunches on building costs. With a little creativity, you can grow wide, grow tall, or even grow up a wall (check out Apartment Therapy's great post on vertical gardens). Just grow. Grow any way at all.


A Dose of Authenticity

{parade, Hurley, NY}

If life always went as planned, we would have spent last weekend on a little island off of Seattle, celebrating the marriage of two of our dearest friends. It was to be our first real (much needed) family vacation since baby Greta was born, and a long overdue visit to the West Coast which always brings us both a sense of breath and space to handle all this busy city throws our way.

Every time I passed the wedding save the date magnet on the fridge, I imagined walking through quiet streets hand in hand with András (something that happens less now that our hands seem always occupied with the tiny one), Greta tucked against my chest, exploring and inviting the authentic.

The night we were to leave, we spent 6 hours on the tarmac at JFK with Greta in our laps. She ate dinner and fell asleep in our arms and slept like a dream until the captain declared our flight cancelled (don’t ask!). Then she smiled the whole way home in the cab at 1 AM as if we had all just had a very grand adventure. When we woke up the next morning in our own beds, we spent a couple minutes feeling sorry for ourselves and then headed north to a little house in Hurley, NY.

I don’t think I’ve told you all about this yet.

Smack in the middle of writing my book and waiting for baby, we bought a tiny 1930s house in Hurley, New York. Yes, we are gluttons for chaos. It wasn’t so much the house we fell in love with as much as it was the 200-year-old barn.  We imagined turning it into a summer kitchen (for me) and woodworking shop (for András) and a giant grown up playroom in the lofty second level, a project that now seems light years away.

We’ve spent a good few dozen weekends up there, between deadlines and monumental occasions (Greta’s birth) and family visits and birthday parties, tearing down walls and ceilings, painting and priming (and by we, I mean mostly András). We are inching toward our version of country chic, looking out the kitchen window at the empty barn that brought us there.

Usually our weekends there are sweet but storied, full of unexpected obstacles. We eat off of paper plates (gasp, not very green of us, but we reuse them when we can!) and cook every single solitary meal on the little grill I bought András last year. We laugh. At ourselves and each other.  At the absurdity of it all. At Greta bouncing up and down in her Johnny Jump up, her little feet landing over and over on the one small patch of clean, polished wood floor among the mess and mishap we’ve accepted as home.

There is a checklist for this house. There is a deadline. But we don’t live by it. Especially not on a weekend when we’re broken hearted to not to stand by as two people we love make the biggest commitment of their life.  Instead, we gave ourselves a vacation in our own house.

{plant sale, Co Rd 7}

That weekend, I washed freshly picked asparagus in our brand new farm sink. We went to opening day of the Kingston Farmer's Market, and chanced upon a roadside plant stand selling raspberry plants for five dollars. 

{vintage tub, From the Grapevine antiques, Hurley, NY}

We gave our baby girl her first outdoor tubby in an old enamel tub, a gift from our neighbor’s antique shop. We ate the season’s first strawberries and planted our raspberries and walked around barefoot. 

{cucina, woodstock}

We let Greta explore every inch of dirt and grass on her hands and knees and sit in her papa’s lap and eat off his plate at his birthday dinner at Cucina, in Woodstock. 

{lunch: pretzels, Twisted Food, radishes, Migorelli farm, goat's milk ricotta, Acorn Hill Farm}

We cheered for the local Memorial Day parade. We took afternoon naps all together and ate our meals directly from the cutting board on a table made of 2 X 4s. We held hands and let our arms swing up and down between Greta’s singing “Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat…”

We traveled back in time. 

If you and the ones you love find yourself in the Hudson Valley instead of Seattle or somewhere further off, consider yourself lucky. Here are some places you can get yourself a dose of authenticity.

Kingston, NY

The finest of small town farmer’s markets. Get everything from cassis to freshly baked breads, strudels and pies, radishes and greens, wild mushrooms and game and not to be missed sweet, goat's milk ricotta from Acorn Hill Farm. And while you’re there, drop a dollar in the hat for The Queen’s Galley, the organization responsible for feeding all the Hudson Valley’s hungry.

Route 199 and Route 9, Rhinebeck, NY

This 80-year-old fruit and vegetable farm grows over 130 different varieties of fruits and vegetables. They are a regular fixture at both our local market on 14th street in Astoria and the Union Square Green Market, but it's twice as fun to buy direct from the stands that flank their fields. 

Rosendale, NY

Bring your tie-died T's and drive slow as you pull into sleepy Rosendale. If you blink, you’ll pass right by Twisted Foods. This place isn’t fancy; they save the fancy for their four types of pretzel rolls -- Chewy, polished poofs of salted dough shiny from their baking soda bath, with an addictive chew and substance.

Route 209, New York

Somehow, I don’t entirely mind paying the steep prices to keep a 6th generation family farm in business. The Gills own most of the land around Hurley, and sell their seasonal goods by the handful and bunch. Right now you’ll find the last of their asparagus and spinach, season’s first strawberries and the best selection of starter plants from white aubergine to green striped tomatoes that a gardener could wish for.

Woodstock, New York

Cucina is a restaurant with a menu and décor so fine it belongs in any big city, but thankfully it sits on a quiet perch in a rambling restored farmhouse just outside Woodstock.  Minutes from the arresting Ashokan Reservoir (where we city folk get our water), it is sleek by country standards, or any standards. But the food is fresh and fantastic. Service is gracious (even accommodating messy little fingers) and the whole experience is altogether inviting.



{a fifteen minute lunch} to make, chop the contents of your CSA box or veggie drawer. peppers, green beans, spring onions. add hard boiled eggs. torn mozzarella. salt. pepper. olive oil. enjoy.
My photo
New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.