Strawberries are a highlight of summer and the taste of one picked fresh from the garden will sweeten any day.
Supermarkets sell them in abundance but as the nation's favourite gardener Monty Don lamented in his book 'Down to Earth': “What should be a delicious treat has become tasteless factory-fruit.”
Given how easy they are to grow, why not sidestep the shop-bought stuff and give them a try?
Strawberries are a good source of Vitamin C, potassium and folic acid and contain antioxidants.
Eating strawberries has been linked to multiple benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease and preventing inflammation disorders and certain cancers.
Tasting a homegrown strawberry is an instant reminder of the rewards of gardening.
Their succulent sweetness will give you a tangible sense of pleasure and achievement.
Nurturing plants is an excellent way of bringing structure, routine and control into our lives, reinforcing personal status. This can enhance self-esteem and build confidence.
Being in a garden or green space has been associated with a decrease in health complaints, blood pressure and cholesterol, perceived better general health, and the ability to face problems.
Growing strawberries from seeds is possible but for an initial good crop it’s easier to buy plants or runners.
Before you plant, make sure your growing bed is weed-free and then add compost or well-rotted manure to provide the nutrients for successful growth.
Ideally strawberries need a sunny spot and free draining soil.
Don’t be stingy on giving your plants space to grow. They should be spaced about 45cms apart and 75cms between rows, making sure the crowns of the plants are kept well above the soil. Water them in well.
Summer fruiting varieties can be planted out from mid to late summer.
Protecting the plants by mulching is important. Straw is commonly used as a mulch, helping to deter snails and slugs, but also helping keep the fruit dry. Strawberries in contact with soil are more likely to rot.
Mulch also keeps weeds at bay and retains moisture in the soil, meaning less watering is needed. Plastic sheeting can be used as an alternative to straw and will warm the soil, but it needs to be taut, and then slits can be made to place the plants.
When watering, avoid mud splashes on the fruit. A general fertiliser can be used to feed them.
Growing in containers
Strawberries work well in containers as it’s easier to position them to get the most sunlight.
Put four plants into a 30 cm diameter pot with soil-based peat-free compost. Feed them with a liquid tomato feed when flowers appear.
Pots will make it more straightforward to keep the fruit clear of the soil, but they’ll need more regular watering in hot spells to ensure they don’t dry out.
Growing strawberries in hanging baskets is an effective way to keep clear of snails and slugs.
To maintain high yields, replace the plants every three years.
Once the ripening process starts, strawberries don’t take long to reach their plumpy redness.
Once you see them turning red, keep an eye on them and be ready to pick them before they turn soft.
They are best eaten as soon as possible after picking.
Blackbirds have a real taste for strawberries, so if you’re not keen on sharing them with feathered friends, put netting over the top of your plants.
Mildew can be a problem if conditions are too warm and wet, but the correct spacing of plants to allow air and light can mitigate this.
Strawberry plants are susceptible to viruses so it’s good practice to rotate your crops every few years to prevent a build-up of disease in the soil.
Plants should be productive for two to three years and after that their yield declines and new plants will be needed but use a different bed. Rooting runners from existing plants can provide fresh stock.
There are many early or later fruiting varieties. Here are our choices:
‘Alice’, ‘Cambridge Favourite’, ‘Florence’, ‘Mae’, ‘Rhapsody’, ‘Symphony’