Why go to all the hard work of keeping an allotment or kitchen garden? For many people the answer is either the taste of homegrown tomatoes, or strawberries.
The taste of homegrown strawberries is much more intense than shop bought varieties, and even compared to those picked fresh on farms. The really good news is that growing strawberries is easy – with the right preparation!
The hard work in growing strawberries is front loaded. It is worth the effort of preparing a really good strawberry bed, with lots of muck dug in. A few strawberry plants (or even better runners off a neighbour) should deliver good harvests for several years with a minimum amount of care and watering.
- October – April
- Planting depth: Covering root ball and half the crown
- Planting spacing: 40cm between plants,1 m between rows
- May – June (summer strawberries), June – September (alpine strawberries)
- Enjoy fresh or make jam
The ideal time for planting strawberries is at the beginning of spring, with late summer a good alternative. Early spring is good, as if you are lucky, you may have a small harvest of strawberries that year – but subsequent years will be even better. Alpine strawberries are particularly quick to mature.
Preparing a strawberry bed is hard work, but easy to do, and the work will more than repay itself with healthy plants and bountiful strawberries the following year.
The first step is decide where you would like to put your strawberry bed. The strawberry bed will become a fixed part of your allotment or garden for several years. The general advice is to consider moving your strawberry bed every three years. Younger strawberry plants tend to be more vigorous than older plants.
To prepare the bed, thoroughly dig over where you would like to position the rows, and remove any weeds together with any roots you find beneath the soil. Next comes the muck. It is very difficult with strawberries to give too much. The richer and more well rotted the better. Strawberries are vigorous plants that like a rich soil, and this will improve the vitality of the plants and the yield over the lifetime of the bed.
Having applied the muck, the next step is to mix it well into the soil and level it with a rake. The bed at this stage is ready for planting strawberries.
Strawberry plants are vigorous and tough, capable of surviving harsh winters, and then producing delicious strawberries just when summer is starting. This is good news as, apart from weeding, very little care for strawberries is needed.
A well prepared strawberry bed will make a big difference to the size of harvest. There is debate over how much water to give strawberries, especially when the immature green strawberries are forming. One school of thought is to stop watering at this point. Some people like to lay straw around their strawberry plants. This helps to retain moisture in the soil, restrain weeds, and keep the fruit clean.
At my allotment the soil is very dry, with excellent drainage. I find that a regular splash of water during dry periods does no harm at all, and actually helps prevent the plants becoming distressed. My tip is to look at your plants – if they look healthy with the water you give them, they probably are.
At my allotment, the biggest risk affecting the harvest is birds. Without a strong net, it is possible to lose the entire crop.
I recommend spending a little more money on a net for strawberries compared to other crops. This is because I find it easier to leave the net over the strawberry bed all year round, and a durable net should last longer, and be more capable of stretching taunt, without risk of breaking.
When summer strawberries have given their crop, it is recommended to give them a good hair cut, or controlled burning, which will help refresh and reinvigorate the plants for the following year.
If you have used straw, this can be piled on top of the strawberry plants. Noting the direction of the wind, stand upwind and set light to the straw, so that the wind blows the flames away from you and down the strawberry row. Please note, be very careful of dry conditions, and the rules of your allotment, and never leave a fire unattended.
There is no need to do this for alpine strawberries.
Traditional summer strawberries ripen for June, and that is why they are so strongly associated with Wimbledon and tennis. The harvest comes in one burst, perhaps spread out over two or three weeks, and the fruit itself does not keep fresh particularly well. The delicious taste when they are with us just means that the long wait until the following year feels harder.
Less well known are alpine strawberries that produce delicious fruit all summer long. Alpine strawberries are relatively smaller plants and produce relatively smaller strawberries. Their taste is just as intense, if not more so, and they are capable of cropping from May right through to the end of September.