Taste of sum­mer

Give some love to your fruit crop now be­cause there’s noth­ing nicer than pluck­ing a strawberry as you gar­den...

Rutherglen Reformer - - House & Home - Diar­muid Gavin

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

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