Taste of summer
Give some love to your fruit crop now because there’s nothing nicer than plucking a strawberry as you garden...
The world can feel like a turbulent, unpredictable place at times, and that’s when our gardens can become a place of retreat. We often live through our minds and our memories, and central to the psyches of many of us is the garden.
We think back on long summers, often with good weather, spent outside.
We mark the season by national celebrations – it may be the Chelsea Flower Show or Wimbledon.
Beautiful blossoms, not all native to our shores, including roses, dahlias, delphiniums and lavender, remain in our mind’s eye as symbols of British gardens where everything is always all right.
Central to this notion of ‘keep calm and garden on’ is a humble little plant that creeps along the ground before bursting into life with pretty, smiling flowers then the most luscious summer fruit of them all – the strawberry.
There’s nothing more delicious than plucking one of those juicy fruits straight from the garden.
They’re versatile enough to be grown in borders, containers and even hanging baskets – the latter being a good option to keep them clear of snails.
I grow them in a raised bed and this week spent a couple of hours giving them some TLC.
Weeding is important to allow the plants to gain the maximum moisture and nutrients from the soil. Weeds can also host pests and disease.
As a lot of fruits were forming, it was time to put some strawberry mats or straw down to keep the fruit clean of the soil and prevent rot.
I didn’t have any straw handy so I recycled bubblewrap which I think will do a similar job.
You could also use sheets of black polythene which will warm up the soil before we enter high summer. Polythene will suppress further weed growth and retain moisture in the soil.
Next, I sprinkled a high potash seaweed feed around the base of the plants – it’s best to avoid water on the foliage or fruits at this stage.
The final task was to put some fine mesh over the fruits – each year the birds have got far more from these strawberry plants than me!
Horticultural fleece would also be suitable. I’ll continue with regular watering and another feed in a fortnight.
If you haven’t got a crop growing now, you could buy cold-store runners which are ready to be planted and should bear fruit within 60 days. Or get planning for an autumn planting – buy runners at the end of the summer.
Plant in a sunny, wellnourished soil around 18 inches apart. A sunny sheltered position is best.
As with other food plants, practise crop rotation and avoid planting where strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes and chrysanthemums have been growing.
Strawberries can be prone to root diseases, such as verticillium wilt which can build up in the soil.
In spring, give your plants a general fertiliser and then in early summer a high potash feed while they are forming berries.
After harvest, cut away any dead leaves and clear straw or matting away.
You will get around three to five years from a strawberry plant, but after that you will need to replace it.
You can also propagate them quite easily from the mother plant which sends out runners – peg these down and they will form new baby plants.
To avoid a glut of too much fruit for just a couple of weeks, try planting early, mid-season and late-season varieties.
‘Mae’ is one of the earliest croppers, ‘Elsanta’ which you see in supermarkets is a mid-season, and ‘Florence’ is a late cropper.
Or plant perpetual varieties which produce smaller berries over a long season, for example Mara de Bois which has a lovely wild flavour.
Just don’t forget to stock up on cream...
Protect strawberry plants with straw Strawberries A sure sign that high summer is almost here