Most people who grow their own food will tell you that it is that strawberries – or sometimes tomatoes – are the ‘epiphany’ plants. Once you’ve tasted a home-grown fruit, plucked from the plant at perfect ripeness, warmed by the sun so its natural sugars are at their peak….there is no going back. And if that were not enough to convince you, strawberries are incredibly easy to grow and every year supply you with more baby plants, so once you’ve bought a few, you’ll never need to buy any more again!
Raised beds are perfect for growing strawberries. The bed can be filled with a compost or manure-rich soil that will give them all the nutrients they need for a bumper harvest. WoodBlocX raised beds will also help you to get one over on Mother Nature…the soil in raised beds warms up faster than the ground in spring, bringing on the plants sooner and allowing for earlier cropping. . Raised beds, in which the ripening berries can dangle over the sides, also help to keep the berries clean and free from their main disease, botrytis (grey mould, see below*) by having better air circulation.
When your raised bed is ready, put in your strawberry plants in early spring. They are available to buy from garden centres and even supermarkets, usually in packs of four or six plants, but you can also order them online. Buying ‘bare root runners’ is much cheaper, and these are usually supplied in bundles of 10 or 12 plants per variety. These do not have any soil around their roots, and need a soaking overnight before planting straight away so they don’t dry out.
Plant your strawberry plants so that the point at which the roots turn into shoots (called the ‘crown’) is exactly at soil level. This will ensure the best growth of the plant. Leave about 30cm between plants in a row, and 50-60cm between rows. Keep the soil moist but not wet, always watering the soil not the plants (again to avoid spreading botrytis). Once the fruit appears, you can spread some straw between the plants to help keep them off the soil, but it’s not essential. If they are close enough, putting them over or on the edge of the bed where they will catch the most sun will keep them clean and speed up the ripening process.
Plant a few different varieties that ripen at different times (early, mid- and late season) to give you good pickings over a long time. Good choices include Honeoye, Cambridge Favourite, Pegasus and Royal Sovereign; but trial several to find your favourites. Only pick a strawberry when it is a deep crimson red all over and you won’t look back!
After fruiting, the plants will produce long stems with baby plants on them, called runners. Peg down the first baby plant on two-three runners per mother plant, cutting off the rest of the runner. Once it’s rooted into the soil it can be severed from the mother plant and replanted elsewhere or potted up to give away. The mother plant is best replaced every 3-5 years, so by potting up a few runners every year you’ll have a good rolling stock of fresh plants, all for free.
*Botrytis is a fungal disease that is in the air and easily infects soft fruit. To prevent it taking hold, pick all ripe fruit promptly, cut back dead leaves and stalks and if you see any grey mouldy bits, remove and burn them as quickly as possible.