Strawberries always taste best when picked from your own plants. They are a comparatively uncomplicated fruit and thanks to their being handy container plants there should be room enough to grow some in even the smallest of gardens or roof terraces. Pretty much the most popular fruit in the world, they are rich in anti-oxidants as well as flavour. According a US study in 2010 - "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides," – strawberries are among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. So no better reason to grow your own…
Companions Bush bean, borage.
Quantity 3 plants per person
Add as many strawberries as you can find to undercut the tartness of the rhubarb ...
The wide range of strawberry varieties means that, with a bit of planning, you can harvest delicious home-grown berries from spring through to autumn.
Baby pink compact plants that produce pink flowers and a crop of smallish sweet red fruits in large bunches. Harvest between October and February.
Camarosa good for areas with damper summers. Produces large cone-shaped berries. Grows well in warmer areas. Main harvest between December and January.
Supreme produces huge, tasty red fruit. Smallish plants – can be planted close together. Main harvest December to January.
Temptation produces medium sized, tasty fruit. Plants are resilient and resistant to many pests and diseases. Heavy cropping plants produce fruit between October and March.
Tioga medium sized plants produce fruit early in October with main harvest December to January.
Plant seedlings or runners from April to late May in warmer areas - to get established during winter – elsewhere its best to wait and plant between August and October as the soil warms up.
A strawberry runner is a young plantlet that has grown from a mature plant. These usually appear in late summer when they can be cut and removed. They are then potted into a free draining mix of sand and pumice before being planted in the garden in autumn or spring.
Sun, sun and more sun. Strawberries taste sweeter the more sun they get. Nothing shy and retiring about these fruits, they want to steal all the available limelight and bask in spring and summer brilliance.
Strawberries are great in containers (half barrels or those ready made strawberry towers you can buy from garden centres work well). This means you can put them in your sunniest spot – say on a deck or terrace - if your veg garden doesn’t happen to be big on suntraps. The other great thing about pots and containers is that they lift strawberries away from the likes of slugs and snails as well as giving fruit good air circulation and keeping them close to hand when the fruit are ripe for the plucking.
Strawberries like a rich nutrient filled soil that is free draining.
Depending upon your soil type you may like to raise your strawberry plants along mounded ridges formed from the soil. These can be approximately a hand length tall and about two to three hands wide at their base. Apart from helping with good air-circulation, which helps prevent disease, this also ensures good drainage on stickier, clay soils which is a must for productive plants, however if you have free—draining soil mounding is not essential.
Strawberries are as hungry for nutrients as we are for their delicious berries. Cram your bed or container with plentiful amounts of well-rotted compost, animal manure and/or sheep pellets – whatever you end up using, you should dig it in until all is well mixed with soil or compost. In the garden, after digging in this essential nutrition, soil level should appear to have visibly risen - by around a hand’s length. This vital shot of nutrients should get plants off to a good start and will also provide a little extra acidity in the soil which strawberries like.
Plant your strawberry plants along the top of your ridges or in your container. Make a hole that is just a touch shallower than the depth of your seedling’s roots and soil. I like to raise the shop bought seedlings a little proud of the soil surface – say about a finger-tip difference between seedling soil and garden/pot soil. If planting runners then make sure that only the roots themselves are covered by soil and the base of the plant – where the roots appear is on or just above soil level. This gives a bit more drainage - important for strawberries - as well as space for a layer of mulch. Plants get reasonably big as they grow and put our runners so don’t overcrowd them. Give each plant a gap of about one to two hands-lengths from any neighbours.
Feed: Depending on how well you have composted the ground you might want to give your developing plants an extra boost with some liquid seaweed or worm juice every two weeks. Best not to use liquid feeds once you begin harvesting as liquid feeds are not meant for human consumption.
Watch it: When starting with fresh plants, pick off all early fruit in the spring to encourage strong leaf growth – the plants should then go on to produce luscious fruit in the summer. As the fruit begin to form, lay a mulch of straw, pine needles, newspaper or untreated, fine wood shavings beneath them to prevent any from rotting – the mulch also suppresses weeds and holds in vital moisture.
Cut off runners as they appear or they will divert energy away from producing fruit. Maybe worth allowing one runner per plant to grow so you can re-plant it for the next season.
Water around the base of your young trees in dry periods, making sure that soil gets enough water for roots to be fully soaked. If you have a number of trees growing and live in a dry area it may be worth setting up a basic irrigation system to take care of this.
Mulch around base of newly-planted trees, especially if you have sandy soil. Cover a circle as wide as the spread of the branches with a finger-deep layer of compost, rotted manure or old straw and replenish mulch when neccessary. Make sure the mulching layer doesn’t touch the stem of your tree as this can cause it to rot.
Strawberries are best picked when they turn red from early summer. Pick fruit with the stalk in tact. Regular picking ensures a prolonged harvest. Strawberries can be frozen but they’ll collapse when defrosted – so best used in jams or puddings.
A strawberry plant can be expected to provide fruit for 3 years before it becomes tired out and needs replacing. However, many strawberry connoisseurs plant fresh plants for every season as this guarantees the best crops. When plants have finished fruiting remove any straw mulch around them and cut back foliage to leave a short-stemmed plant about a thumb’s length tall. This should help to prevent a build up and spread of diseases.
Strawberries can be affected by grey mould and mildew in damp weather. Birds have a keen eye for the odd strawberry so some form of protective netting is worth thinking about from the time fruits start to show their first blush. Slugs will also help themselves.