Berries, bor­age, bees and bar­rows

The Timaru Herald - - Weekend - COM­PILED BY BAR­BARA SMITH

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.

SALLY TAGG/STUFF

Use pea straw mulch and bird net­ting to pro­tect your straw­berry patch.

Bor­age is a bee magnet.

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