NZ Gardener crop trial: Strawberries
Lynda Hallinan seeks out the secrets to strawberry success and taste tests popular varieties grown in her trial beds.
Lynda Hallinan on how to grow bigger, better, sweeter and more juicy fruit!
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We all know that growing your own fresh fruit and vegetables is good for your health, but it’s not necessarily so good for your ego. I’m reminded of this when I stop to buy punnets of ‘Camarosa’ strawberries at our local berry farm. Despite sharing a fairly similar climate, the fruit sold at Clevedon Strawberries puts mine to shame and, what’s worse, their berries taste better too!
Three years ago, Kevin and Diana Gallagher, with neighbour Dennis Dare, ploughed up a sunny slope and planted 80,000 strawberry plants on mounds running down the hill.
Location is everything, Diana says. Their strawberry farm faces north and basks in all-day sun. But even so, there’s one spot, “in the top right hand corner of the slope”, where the soil routinely dries out and the thirsty berries grow slightly deformed. And that’s the thing with strawberries: they can be temperamental at times.
Just as some spots are more suitable than others, some years are better than others for fruit formation and ripening, and the weather doesn’t always play ball. Too much sun and they come on too quick; not enough and they stay white instead of red.
Strawberries also need a supply of water to swell up, but not so much that the flesh splits and disintegrates. Rain or overhead watering on fully ripe fruit is a recipe for disaster, not to mention mildew and mould growth.
On the plus side, strawberries are among the fastest fruit crops to bear, flowering a few months after planting.
It helps to know that most modern strawberry cultivars are classified as either short-day or day-neutral. The former start producing flower buds when the days are short, giving early spring crops, while the latter group repeat-flowers throughout spring and summer, provided the weather is warm. Therefore, short-day varieties should be planted by midwinter, for spring crops, whereas day-neutral varieties can still be planted now.
You can grow strawberries in pots, troughs, baskets, spouting and beds, but make sure you can cover them with netting once the fruit ripens or the birds will steal every single berry.
Berries on left are ‘Camarosa’ berries from my Hunua garden. Berries on right are ‘Camarosa’ berries grown commercially up the road at Clevedon Strawberries.