Friday, 28 June 2013

Grow your own - STRAWBERRIES

Everyone loves strawberries don't they? And they are just starting to ripen this year - so where better to start for my new 'Grow Your Own' feature posts...



  Get started with just a dozen plants (try two varieties) - because you can so easily propagate more from the runners each year you'll never need to buy more (making them really good value!). 

  Great varieties to try include: Alice, Honeoye, Red Gauntlet. If you buy them bare rooted soak them in tepid water overnight before planting the next day.


  I plant my strawberries in a mix of garden soil, well rotted leaf mulch & homemade compost and it seems to do the trick very well. 

  No need for tons of space to grow these plants - they work fabulously in hanging baskets - I grow mine in troughs on plant theatres / patiogros. This can mean more shelter from relentless summer rain too. Lots of rain leads to watery fruit that aren't as flavourful.

4 plant theatres, 3 troughs on each with 5 plants in each


  Any fruits need sun to be really sweet tasting - so pick a sunny sheltered spot for growing them if you can. 

  If you do grow strawberries in the ground though - try not to plant them near any species of the cabbage family - as they do not make good companions (strawberries deplete the soil of nutrients too much).


  Feed strawberry plants in early spring (I use a comfrey liquid, add plants to a bucket, top up with water, cover and leave for a month, dilute to use) and if you have a coal or wood burner add a very generous sprinkling of ash around the plants. Feed again just as they are flowering and just as they are fruiting.

  In warm weather strawberries need watering every other day - check that soil is always moist but ideally never waterlogged (this is easier to control if grown in tubs - but does make you a bit of a slave to the watering).


  If planted in pots or tubs etc make sure the fruit hang over the edges so that they don't rest on the soil and either rot or get eaten by slugs.
this years strawbs - Icheck and reposition them every day

  If planted in the ground many people add a layer of straw under the plants to avoid rotting and pest damage.

  Net net net to protect! Your main strawberry thieves are pigeons, other birds and small mammals - so bird-proof netting is a must or you will awake to bare stalks one morning! Net them as soon as they flower [nb bird netting will allow pollinators to still get in and do their thing].

now I've got the space I protect all my fruit & fruit trees in a walk in fruit cage

  Good 'companion plants' for strawberries ( them to grow - deter potential pests) include: Caraway, which attracts parasitic insects away from them, Lupins which not only attract pollinators but add Nitrogen to the soil, Borage - said to improve strawberry flavour, attract pests away from the fruit & also attract pollinators. [nb I've tried Borage but couldn't say it did much more than not using it.]

  Strawberries are quite hardy plants in my experience - mine even survived outdoors, uncovered in the winter of 2010 at -19C !! but a little bit of fleece cover in cold winters is probably a good idea.


  Picking your strawberries as soon as they are ready is also a good idea - always get to your food before something else does! Place forefinger and middle finger either side of the stalk and pull down on the fruit - ripe ones come away easily - if they resist then leave them until the next day. 


  Strawberries throw out long 'runners'. Once your crop is nearing its end and the runners have developed little roots and leaves you can pin these into small pots of soil (I hold them down in with opened paper clips) and leave for 4 weeks - during which time they should root and take hold. Snip the runner and hey presto you have a new plant.

   Let new plants take hold in their little pots for another 4 weeks so that they develop a good root system, then plant them up into larger pots, troughs or baskets ready for next year.

  It's often said that you should discard strawberry plants after 3 years as the fruit aren't so good - but in my experience go by what you taste. I have plants older than this which still produce delicious fruit!


  In my opinion, organically grown strawberries that are ripened with the sun naturally don't need anything other than washing, then air drying on paper towels before eating. I don't add cream or sugar or anything. 

   That said if you love cream with strawberries - try Alpro single soya cream. 

  Always eat strawberries at room temperature to get the best flavour. Some people recommend balsamic vinegar with them or a little black pepper. (Must admit I have made strawberry & pink peppercorn ice-cream - which was fab!)

  If sharing the eating with other people cut all of the strawberries in half and share out so that you all get a mix of flavours. [ of course if you've taken the time to grow them it's gardeners perks to have a couple straight off the plants... :) ]

I've been growing my own fruit and veg on and off (space permitting) for 13 years now - its a never ending experiment of trying different varieties & techniques. In sharing them with you I hope to inspire you to get digging, sowing, pricking out, potting on, harvesting & cooking. There's really nothing like the adventure and satisfaction of growing your own food from scratch. Walking back to the kitchen clutching bundles of freshly pulled produce is, to my mind, one of the most satisfying (and, ultimately, delicious) things ever!
And in case you're wondering I use totally organic techniques and never resort to pesticides of any kind; When you learn to work with nature and have a little patience - there really isn't any need to do otherwise. Two fingers to Monsanto.

Chantal xx