I have enjoyed growing strawberries all my life for a variety of reasons. Summer would be incomplete without some fresh strawberries and I have always felt I am eating a very healthy fresh fruit that has to be really good for you. However there is also the nostalgia of memories of childhood when we went berry picking as soon as the school holidays arrived. It was both raspberries and strawberry picking around Dundee but I always made more money at the strawberries and I preferred to pop the occasional strawberry in my mouth rather than a few rasps.
Today commercial strawberry growing is no place for kids, and all the plants have moved indoors under tunnels. This gives better control of seasonal picking so the grower can supply the market with fresh berries over a far longer period using a range of varieties grown from cold stored runners.
As gardeners we can also extend our season and pick fresh fruit from the middle of M
ay till October
using several varieties and putting the earliest one under a low polythene
Strawberries will grow on a wide variety of soils provided it is well drained, weed free and fertile. It also helps if the rows run north to south in a sunny spot and cropping is best if the site has some shelter. Planting can be done with freshly dug runners in late summer to early spring or later with cold stored runners. Plants are normally planted a foot apart in rows spaced three feet apart. Don’t be tempted to space the rows closer as you will need that spacing to straddle the rows for picking.
If using your own runners and they are plentiful you can plant thicker along the row to give a heavier crop in the first year. When growth commences and runners start to form these can be trained along the rows to give a matted row of more young plants, or rooted runners can be used for planting up the next bed or given to friends.
Once the small fruits begin to swell in early May bed some straw along the rows under the fruit to prevent soil being splashed by rain onto the fruit. Then as they start to colour up sprinkle some slug pellets along the rows to control slugs and snails and put nets over the strawberry bed to keep the blackbirds from pecking them.
|Strawberry Flamenco and rasp Autumn Bliss in October|
Pick about twice a week in season. As soon as the crop is finished it helps to chop down the old foliage and remove it and the straw to the compost heap. This will allow fresh growth from the crowns so fruit buds for the following year can be initiated in autumn.
There are many varieties to choose from so experiment to find those best suited to your own conditions and taste buds. I start off my season using the variety Mae which gets a low polythene tunnel placed over the row in early March after the plants have had a fair amount of winter chill.
This is followed by a row of Mae without tunnels. I then go onto my main crop variety of Elsanto, but have also grown many others, and all been very good. This is followed by a couple of late varieties Symphony and Florence taking me into August, but then my perpetual variety Flamenco will continue to crop till the frosts come in November. However although the berries still look great in late autumn they are pretty tasteless without sun and warmth to sweeten up the fruit.
Wee jobs to do this week
Spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia and early summer flowering ones such as Ceanothus can now be lightly pruned to encourage some growth in the summer months which will ripen up by winter and flower next year. Remove straggly shoots, ones that are too low down and trailing along the ground, and any dead branches from the middle. Do not cut shrubs into square or round shapes. That may look tidy, but is very amateurish and destroys the natural attractive shape of each individual shrub.