The first fruit to ripen in summer - and the most popular - strawberries are everyone’s favourite. Strawberries are a member of the rose family and aren't really a fruit or a berry but the enlarged receptacle of the flower. First cultivated in ancient Rome, strawberries are now the most popular berry fruit in the world.
Strawberries are best planted in the spring or autumn. They prefer a sunny and sheltered position in fertile, free-draining soil. Improve your soil with lots of organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure prior to growing strawberry plants. Avoid areas prone to frost and soils that have previously grown potatoes, chrysanthemums, or tomatoes because they are all prone to the disease verticillium wilt. Avoid windy sites which will prevent pollinating insects from reaching the flowers. In poor soils grow in raised beds, which improves drainage and increases rooting depth. Alternatively, try containers or growing-bags.
- When planting your strawberries give them plenty of space for better cropping and easy access. For growing in the ground, plant strawberries 45cm apart and in rows spaced 75cm apart. Use a trowel to dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots of the plant. If planting strawberry runners spread the roots out in the hole and make sure the crown of the plant is resting at soil level. Planting too deeply can cause the strawberry plants to rot, and planting with the crown too high above the soil surface can cause the plants to dry out and die.
- Spread a thin layer of straw all round the plants and over the paths between rows The aim of this is to lift the fruit off damp ground and to stop soil splashing on to the ripening fruit – which encourages rotting.
- To ensure a good crop regularly give the plants a liquid feed every week during the growing season. You can make your own from comfrey or nettles if you wish.
Strawberry Crop Rotation
Strawberry plants tend to lose vigour after about three years; harvests become smaller and the plants succumb to pests and diseases. It is best to replace plants after their third year of cropping. If space allows then rotate your strawberry beds every three years to a different part of the garden to prevent pests and diseases building up in the soil.
The strawberry plants will produce runners after they have fruited and these can be used to produce more plants. Strawberries can be propagated in late summer by sinking 9cm pots filled with potting compost, into the beds and inserting individual runners into them. Sever the new young plants from the parent plant when rooted. Only use runners from healthy plants
After cropping, remove any straw and netting to allow better air flow around the crown of the plant. As the summer progresses, keep on top of weeding and continue to remove any runners. Clear away dead foliage as this can harbour pests and diseases over winter. Each spring spread a general purpose fertiliser around your plants along with a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost
Growing Strawberries Under Cover
Any amount of shelter you can give your plants will lead to earlier fruiting so long as the temperature does not go above 16°C because this will inhibit flowering. You will also need to hand pollinate the flowers
Pest and Problems
- Birds love strawberries so it is essential to net them as soon as fruiting starts. This will also deter small children and unauthorised adults helping themselves!
- Slugs can also be a problem. Mulching plants helps and you can also use slug pellets
- Vine weevil can also be a problem. Keep a look out for leaves that have notches bitten out of them. It also useful to look for grubs in the soil. Always buy plants from a reputable source and rotate you beds to stop pests building up in the soil. Nematodes are very effective at getting rid of vine weevil.
- Strawberries are very prone to mould so only water in the morning to give plants a chance to dry off. Keeping the beds weed free will also allow air to circulate better.
Pick the strawberries as often as they are ripe and do not let overripe berries remain on the plants as this encourages the growth of mildews and moulds.
Once strawberries have been picked, the ripening process stops. So, wait until the berries are fully red, then pinch through the stalks with your finger and thumb to avoid bruising the fruit.
Damp strawberries will quickly go mouldy, so only wash what you can eat and blot them dry on kitchen paper.
Packed with vitamins and fibre, strawberries are a sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie food. They also contain particularly high levels of antioxidants. They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium.
100 gm of strawberries will give you 97% of your daily Vitamin C Requirement.
Ripe strawberries are delicious on their own or with a dollop of whipped cream, but they are also a great addition to summer salads. Try adding some thinly sliced strawberries to a bowl of spinach leaves add some goats cheese and top it with some nuts - walnuts, almonds or pine nuts. Strawberries go great with balsamic vinegar so a balsamic based dressing is a good option for this fresh summery salad....YUM!
A salad of melon chunks and strawberries is also lovely - again, use a balsamic based dressing.
Refreshing strawberry drink
- Place strawberries in a blender; top with 2 tablespoons sugar. Pour 1 cup water over sugared strawberries. Blend until strawberry chunks transform into juice.
- Combine strawberry juice with iced water to taste. Stir until blended. Chill before serving and enjoy in the garden.
- Place the strawberries, sugar and 3-4 ice cubes in an electric blender and blend until pureéd.
- Transfer to a jug or cocktail shaker. Add extra ice, a splash of vermouth and the gin or vodka. Stir gently and then strain into four chilled glasses.
- Enjoy responsibly, only after you have done all the weeding and the children have got lost in the cabbage patch. Cheers!