Berries, borage, bees and barrows
Top tips for better berries Strawberries need free-draining soil, full sun and irrigation. Prior to planting, enrich the soil with compost and general fertiliser. Mulch to reduce weed competition and keep the ripening berries clean. The plants are frost-hardy but late frosts can damage the first flush of flowers.
Growing strawberries in pots? Feed weekly with liquid fertiliser and crank up the water supply. The more food and water the plants get while the fruit is developing, the bigger your berries will be.
Ease up on overhead watering at the first sign of red on the cheeks of the fruit. From this point on you want firm, sweet berries, not bloated, mushy ones. If the weather’s dry, use a leaky hose to irrigate.
Slugs, snails, slaters and ants are often blamed for holes in the fruit, but these tend to target fruit after rot has set in.
Replace one-third of your plants each year to maintain fruiting vigour. To do this, simply transplant the runners that take root around established plants in late summer.
Bring in the bees
Plant bee-friendly companions such as alyssum, oregano and borage near your strawberry patch.
Strawberries are self-fertile but university researchers in Germany found that beepollinated fruit is bigger, brighter, more uniformly shaped, firmer, longer lasting and, most importantly, sweeter to eat (with the optimal sugaracid ratio). Fertilised seeds release hormones that sweeten the flesh; selfpollinated fruit fail to make these hormones, resulting in small, bland, malformed strawberries.
This helps to explain why early strawberries, which flower in late winter when bees are reluctant to leave their hives, are often smaller and a bit mutantlooking. So choose netting that bees can still get through.
Add more flowers now to feed these useful pollinators later in the spring and summer too: lavender, rosemary, basil or phacelia are all great for bees, although really any blue, purple, yellow or white flowering plant is pretty good (and look for flowers with a single row of petals for preference).
Don’t waste any of your green waste
Add that valuable organic matter to your compost heap. Don’t have a heap? Start one! Just put down a carbon-rich layer (such as untreated sawdust, woody twigs or any fallen autumn leaves you might still have), then a layer of nitrogen-rich green waste such as spent winter crops, spring grass clippings or even some young weeds (in theory your compost heap should get hot enough to kill pests and diseases, and prevent weeds from germinating, but in practice it’s a good idea to avoid any weeds that have seedheads or perennial parts, as – obviously – the last thing you want to do is introduce them into your garden). Chuck in a spade of compost from an existing heap (it helps kickstart decomposition because that compost is already teeming with friendly soil fungi and bacteria), a spoonful or two of blood and bone, and water the whole heap well. Then cover with something like an old piece of carpet to keep the heat in.
Use pea straw mulch and bird netting to protect your strawberry patch.
Borage is a bee magnet.