Strawberries must be one of the best fruits to grow and eat. They are easy to grow, a perfect size to eat, have great colour and taste and are an excellent health product high in vitamins C and K, minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iodine and potassium, antioxidants and fibre. They can be cropped over a long period by bringing the season forward with early varieties under tunnels, then after the summer crops have finished the season can be extended with late varieties and perpetuals which will fruit till the frosts come. The UK climate is perfect for them as it doesn’t get too hot in summer, but imports out of season supplied from warmer countries abroad are no substitute. They may look delicious, but they lack flavour, softness, sweetness and taste like a Swede turnip.
Their popularity has now extended to growing them in barrels, hanging baskets, tubs, large layered strawberry pots and growbags at ten plants per bag. These are usually placed at tabletop height above soil level so no need for straw or slug pellets. Plants can be purchased as fresh runners in autumn, potted plants in winter and spring and cold stored runners in spring and summer.
Strawberries require a period of cold weather so the crowns can initiate flower buds, so plants lifted for cold storage need a few frosty winter months so the runners can fruit the first year after planting in spring or early summer.
Cultivation of main crops
Strawberries are happy on most soils as long as drainage is good, and the land has been well manured or composted as they will be on the same ground for two to three fruiting years. Once fruit size falls away and you are ready to plant up a fresh strawberry patch with new runners choose another area of land to rotate crops. New beds can be planted in autumn to fruit the following year or in early spring with cold stored runners. As long as the new plants can grow for a couple of months before fruiting you can crop in the first year. Traditionally rows are spaced at three feet apart to allow access for cultivations and picking and the plants spaced at one foot apart along the row, but if you have your own plants and plenty of runners you can plant at six inches apart up the row to gain a heavier crop in the first year.
After planting give a dressing of a high potassium fertiliser. Strawberries do not respond to nitrogen or phosphorus. Keep the rows weeded and once runners start growing keep just enough to thicken up the row, then remove others so the strength of the crowns is not weakened. At the end of flowering when the first fruits begin to swell lay some fresh clean straw up the rows under the fruit trusses to prevent soil splashing onto the developing berries. As soon as the first fruits begin to show colour net the crop from birds which enjoy the fruit just as much as us.
Pick the fruit with a small piece of stalk to avoid damage to the fruit.
Once the crop is harvested cut off the old foliage and remove it and the bedding straw. New leaves will soon appear. Towards the end of the strawberry patch (usually third year) keep all the runners so you can select the strongest for the next strawberry bed.
There are many varieties to choose from including Elsanta, a popular commercial variety, Honeoye, Hapil and Cambridge Favourite.
My earliest crops are grown under low polythene tunnels using the early variety Mae which I start to pick at the end of May. Open the tunnels in dry sunny weather to encourage insect pollination and water if necessary.
Extend the season
Late summer varieties such as Florence and Symphony (bred in Dundee) will crop into August then Perpetual varieties such as Flamenco crop over a long period right till the end of November, but edible berries need sun and warmth to keep them sweet and soft so cropping ends by mid October. These are grown just the same as summer varieties.
Plant of the week
Glory of the Snow known botanically as Chionodoxa luciliae is a low growing bulbous plant with sky blue starry shaped flowers appearing in early spring and not affected by our cold winters, so it often appears through the snow as it melts. It is very easy to grow, perfect for path edges, front of cottage garden borders, the rock garden and as an underplant amongst deciduous shrubs. It is not fussy about soil as long as it drains freely and can thrive in sun or partial shade. Plant bulbs in autumn, split clumps after flowering or collect and scatter seed after flowering. They grow readily and small clumps soon form impressive drifts.