How To Grow Strawberries
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’s 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.
How To Grow Strawberries – Varieties
Traditional summer strawberries ripen for June and that’s 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.
In the photograph above it is possible to see both types. The two rows of alpine strawberries are to the left. On the right are two rows of summer strawberries, the first line freshly planted runners and the second line full size plants.
When to plant strawberries? 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.
How To Grow Strawberries – Planting
How to plant strawberries ? 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.
In the photograph above I have marked out a bed of about two metres wide by four metres long. This is more than sufficient to provide for my family. I have hammered stakes into the ground. The purpose of doing this is to make netting strawberries easy.
On the top of each stake I put a screw with it’s head standing proud of the wood by about 0.5cm. The reason for doing this is that it provides an easy way of attaching the net. I use heat treated wood to help give the stakes extra life in the ground before they rot.
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.
However, because I have both a strong dislike of weeding and have little time to take care of my allotment, I prefer to take an additional step of laying on top of the bed a tarpaulin sheet. Before I lay the tarpaulin sheet, I give the bed a really good soaking with water to make sure the new plants will have a moist soil to help establish themselves.
There are many types of weed suppressing fabric available, but my experience is that the sun’s action can quickly lead them to disintegrate when they are placed on the surface of the soil.
My preference is for tarpaulin as it is much stronger and more durable, yet still allows water to pass through it’s surface (sometimes called ‘ground cover fabric’). I use bricks to secure the tarpaulin around the bed and ensure that it does not blow away on a windy day.
A strong pair of scissors is needed to cut holes in the tarpaulin where you want to put your plants. I use two cuts to create a cross shape, before using a trowel to loosen the earth and make a hole under the cut. Everything is then ready for the final step of inserting the strawberry plants.
How To Grow Strawberries – Care
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 baby green strawberries are forming. One school of thought is to stop watering at this point.
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 using 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 as shown in the picture above, which will help refresh and reinvigorate the plants for the following year. There is no need to do this for alpine strawberries.