From memorable beginnings
WHEN I was a very young lad my grandmother gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received, a strawberry plant and a small part of her garden bed to grow it in.
It was the fi rst plant I had ever tried to grow and with her guidance it was the fi rst plant I had success with.
From that wonderful experience sprung a personal love affair with things that grow.
I don’t want to be the type of person who tells kids that unicorns aren’t real but technically strawberries aren’t really berries at all but enlarged stamens.
To get the very best out of your crop select an open, full- sun position, they will grow in shade but it will affect the amount, size and fl avour of the fruit.
In saying this, the alpine strawberry is a different species that is grown from seed and prefers part shade.
All strawberries like a slightly acidic freedraining fertile soil.
As these plants are a perennial crop that will produce in the bed for years it is important to prepare the soil with this in mind.
This just means cultivating as deeply as possible and adding copious amounts of organic matter in the form of rotted manures and compost.
I like to mound up soil so the bed is slightly raised. This helps the soil drain which prevents the plants from rotting in wet conditions.
Now that the bed is ready to plant, the monumental task of selecting what varieties you want to grow begins.
Red Gauntlet is a popular choice as it is disease resistant and reliable, although in my opinion it can lack fl avour.
Other varieties such as Lowanna and Tioga have long cropping periods and produce good amounts of fruit.
The Japanese varieties such as Hokawase and Kunowase have great fl avoured fruit but to my mind and mouth nothing beats the fl avour of the old Cambridge Rival.
There are many varieties of the common strawberry with more being released every year, and my rule when selecting strawberry varieties is the more the merrier.
This way you will have overlapping harvest periods and more consistent crops – as they say, variety is the spice of life.
Once your plants are in it’s a good idea to mulch them and, as their name suggests, straw is a great material for this.
I like to fi rst add a thin layer of pine needles around the plants and then add the straw, the pine needles are a great cheap way of helping to acidifying the ground.
I have found drip irrigation to be the best way to irrigate your strawberries as watering over the plants will promote fungal infestations and can cause the fruit to rot.
If you are hand watering always remember to water to the side of the plant never over the top.
I feed the plants throughout the growing season with a 50- 50 mix of blood and bone and sulphate of potash applied at a rate of a handful every square metre.
Liquid tomato feeds are a great pick- me- up for plants that need a quick fi x.
Strawberries are extremely effective and attractive border plants and they can be grown in pretty much any container so they are great for gardeners with limited space.
They are perfect in pots, tubs and troughs but make sure you use a good potting mix.
I like to add a bit of coir fi bre as it helps with the water- holding ability of the mix and it is slightly acidic, which the plants love.
I have even planted them into hessian sacks fi lled with potting mix with holes cut in the sides and old guttering which can be hung from fences or walls or even directly into straw bales.
If you want an easy- togrow, high- yield plant that will appeal to kids as well as seasoned gardeners, you can not go past the strawberry.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget what a real strawberry tastes like, but when you grow your own there’s no need for fancy recipes or additional ingredients.
You can go back to eating them straight from the bush, the way it should be.