The price is ripe
WHY pay $5 for your weekly small pack of supermarket strawberries when, with a little effort, you can pick a constant supply of sweet, ripe berries fresh from your own garden.
Strawberries are ideal for homegarden production, particularly when there is little room available for traditional fruit trees.
All you need is a sunny location. And where space for a normal garden bed is limited, consider growing them in one of those small, easy-to-assemble, raised garden beds.
Strawberry plants also grow readily in large planter boxes or containers and, with a little extra attention, hanging baskets.
The reason these growing areas are so suitable is closely linked to the strawberries’ need to be grown in soil (or potting mix) where surplus water drains freely from around the plant’s roots and is replaced by a constant supply of air.
Strawberries thrive in South Australia largely because the climate is cool enough in winter to initiate flowering, but dry enough through the growing season to keep fungal diseases to a minimum.
Once well-established, the plants produce a thick ground cover-like layer of leaves that are formed around a central crown.
This helps protect an extensive layer of fibrous roots located close to the surface.
While the plants produce most of their growth during winter and early spring, these surface roots are easily stressed by high temperatures during summer.
To keep your plants in top condition, two important elements are needed – organic matter and mulch.
PLAN FOR A FRUITFUL SPRING ORGANIC MATTER
Organic matter plays an essential role in retaining soil moisture. However, as it breaks down it also provides plants with a constant supply of slow-release nutrients.
Incorporate large quantities of organic material into the soil (or potting mix) before planting. Ideally this should be a blend of quality compost and aged animal manure or chicken manure pellets. Avoid using materials containing very high nitrogen content, as the plants are likely to produce leaves at the expense of flowers and fruit.
Mulching provides strawberry plants with a number of important benefits, such as:
1. Weed control. Because of their surface root system, strawberry plants are very susceptible to competition from weeds – particularly during winter when weeds often grow faster;
2. Soil moisture and warmth. During late winter
Most strawberry varieties produce their main crop during spring and early summer. Some also produce a small crop in autumn.
However, the latest varieties, known as “Everbearing” are ideal for home gardeners as they produce their fruits in waves right throughout the growing season (with the exception of extremely hot weather during summer).
Fruit size also varies considerably with many of the newer varieties (classified as large) almost twice the size of traditional medium-sized fruits.
Red Gauntlet: A long-time favourite. Sweet fruits over a long season.
Pink: Relatively new. Very sweet, high yielding. Bubbleberry: An old heirloom variety, high yielding with distinctive bubblegum flavour.
Schizam: Very large and flavoursome, deep red skin with conical shape.
Sumo: Very large and high yielding with delicious fruit. Tioga: An older variety. High yielding, sweet taste.
Alinta: Very popular Australian variety. Excellent flavour, glossy berries.
Hokowase: Medium-size, upright red fruits, acid free flavour.
NB. Because of the current interest in gardening, availability of strawberry plants in some garden outlets is likely to be limited.
and early spring, mulching helps retain warmth in the soil, resulting in earlier fruit set and larger berry size. During late spring and summer, mulching helps retain valuable soil moisture.
3. Cleaner fruit. A layer of clean organic matter spread under the plants’ leaves prevents maturing fruits close to the ground from being soiled by soil.