Growing strawberries

It is summer time and that means strawberries! Strawberries are easy to grow and great to harvest and with just a few pointers even you can do it.

growing strawberries

Plants

In theory you can grow strawberry plants from seeds but my advice is to buy a few plants at a garden center or your local market. I see them more and more these days, even at discount supermarkets. As such there are two kinds of strawberry plants, those that give all their fruit in one go and those that carry fruit for most of the summer. Certain varieties produce large strawberries and others are smaller. I have noticed that most times you buy plants it just says ‘strawberries’ on the container and does not mention the specific name. Then it’s a bit of a guessing game what kind you have. If you really want to make sure you have a certain type of strawberry you can best buy your plants from a specialist supplier.

strawberry plant

I have two kinds of strawberries in my garden: one type that produces a mega harvest of large strawberries all in one go and a second type with smaller strawberries over a longer period. The first is great for making jam because of the sheer volume of fruit, whereas the second is great for eating (straight from the plant) because they are more sweet and have even more flavor than the large ones.

Growing and protecting strawberry plants

Honestly, growing strawberries is a walk in the park, they grow all on their own and you need to do little to help them. You can leave the strawberry plants in the same location for three to four years, then you should renew the plants and move them to a new piece of soil. The first year your harvest will be only modest, but the year after will be overwhelming.

Plant your strawberry plants at a distance of about 20cm (8inches) from each other. There should really be enough room between your plants to allow for air circulation. If they are too close together you will get more rotting fruit and other issues like lice and mold.

Give your strawberry plants fertilizer once of twice a year. I usually give mine a wealthy amount of fruit fertilizer (available at most garden centers) in the early spring and at the end of the summer/beginning of autumn. On the box it always says you need to do more often, but I think that is just a trick to sell you more fertilizer. To my experience, twice a year is enough.

Once your plants start to flower and produce the first green strawberries it is time to protect your harvest-to-come. First you need to protect your strawberries from rotting away when they start to ripen. If strawberries come in contact with moisture or soil they tend to rot away fast. I cover the ground around my strawberry plants with a VERY thick layer of empty cacao  pods but you could also use straw, wood chips or even plastic. The point is that you want to keep your fruit from laying in a damp environment. A great added benifit of the cacao pods is that they keep weeds at bay. They do decompose slowly over the course of the summer so at the beginning of the new year you will have to put down a new layer.

netting over strawberry plants

A second thing you need to protect you strawberries from is birds. Trust me, they will eat all your strawberries if you don’t keep them out. A simple pipe frame with netting over it works perfect. I always keep the nets in position with tent pins (you know, the kind you use when you go camping), but when I need to get to my strawberries to harvest them it is quick and easy to pull the pins out and push back the nets.

Maintenance

Strawberries require little maintenance. From midway summer they will start to produce shoots and new plants will grow were the shoots touch the ground. Remove these shoots as they will cause your strawberry bed to become completely overcrowded. If you want more plants or you want to renew your strawberry bed these shoots are ideal for getting new/more plants.

At the end of the summer some of the older leaves will start to die. You can remove these dead leaves in the autumn or early spring. Unless it is a very harsh winter, most strawberry plants will retain a few green leaves during winter.

Harvesting

Nothing compares to that very first strawberry of the season 😀 Somehow that first one never seems to make it to the kitchen. Later strawberries are even sweeter than the first ones because the plant has to distribute its sugar over less fruit and hence they become sweeter.

Harvest strawberries when they are bright red. As you harvest, remove those that are rotting away to prevent them from ‘infecting’ your other strawberries. Pick the strawberries by breaking the stem 1cm (0.5inh) above the crown and be sure to leave the crown connected to the strawberry. If you remove the crown the fruit will dry out.

Storage

Strawberries, like other soft fruit, does not keep well for long. You can best eat them right away. If you have more fruit than you can eat make your own jam or give some to your friends (they will love you for it).

strawberries on bread

To my experience home grown strawberries have a fuller, sweeter taste than store bought ones. And nothing beats the treat when in late autumn you suddenly discover a strawberry hidden underneath a dried-up leaf. Enjoy!

logo it's all in a nutshell

Follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, You-Tube, Google+, RavelryBloglovin’

Advertisements

Introducing new chickens to the coop

I have two new chickens. I am SO happy, but my two older hens are less happy. You see, introducing new chickens to an existing coop is definitely not trivial.

The first time I had chickens was when I was a little girl, so having chickens for me has a great sense of nostalgia. It was a dream come true when two years ago I got 4 little Booted Bantam hens. Just 12 weeks old they were at the time. LOVE the feathers on their feet!

young booted bantam chickens

Unfortunately I lost one chick very soon to Marek’s desease, a fatal chicken disease which caused me to have her euthanized before it slowly killed her. I lost a second hen for reasons unknown a year later. Just found her dead in the pen one morning. So now I only had two little hens and I thought I would love to have two more. They are just part of my family. Here one of my hens (all grown up now) is checking up on my crochet work.

I got two new hens from a respectable breeder whom I knew vaccinated for Marek’s, I did not want to repeat going through the process of having to put one of my hens down again. My two new hens were 16 weeks old when I got them which is considerably smaller than my adult hens. That proved to be a problem….

booted bantam chickens 16 weeks old

I put the new hens with the old ones in the night pen when it was dark and the chickens are sleeping in the hope that in the morning they would wake up together and think ‘did I miss these yesterday?’. My old hens however did not accept the newcomers. IT WAS WAR! Especially the brown little hen was the focus of everyone’s anger. At a certain point I really thought they were going to kill her. The young hens were in one corner of the coop playing dead hoping that if they didn’t move they wouldn’t be noticed. They had feathers pulled out of their backs and blood was flowing from their heads. I had to intervene.

My husband made a fence in the coop separating the young hens from the old ones. They could see each other, but they could not get to each other. In the beginning there as a lot of jumping at the fence, but at a certain point it calmed down. I had them like this for two weeks eyeballing each other and giving one another the evil eye.

After two weeks the young hens were 18 weeks old which meant they were bigger and stronger and I though that now they should be able to fight back. This was the main problem before when I introduced them to the coop the first time. They were just too weak to stand their ‘hen’ against the older ones.

You are not going to believe this. I read a great trick on the internet regarding 4711 and chickens. At night I put them together again in the night pen but this time I totally drenched them in 4711 perfume that I still had around from my grandmother. This way they all smell the same. Did I say smell, I meant stink the same. I left the night pen open as well as the door to the garden. This way when morning came they could all go outside.

Seriously, it worked like a charm. The first day there was a bit of a scuffle here and there, but nothing major. Two days later and the pecking order was established and I had 4 hens living together in harmony.

My kids love my hens and my hens love my kids and I love all of them. Life is good.

child holding a chicken

Finally peace is transcending on my garden again. Hope your house is peaceful too.

7 steps to growing potatoes

Hey you all!

For like literally the first time this year it has been the ideal moment to plant my potatoes. It was (a) dry outside, (b) not freezing and (c) I was off work. So, out to the garden!

Potatoes are in my experience one of the easiest vegetables to grow. The downside however is that potatoes require a relatively large piece of land and they take a lot of nutrient out of the ground, resulting in soil in desperate need of fertilizer. Nonetheless, young homegrown potatoes have a softer taste that store bought ones which makes it worth while. Plus, harvesting potatoes with your children is lots of fun! Have them looking through the turned-up soil searching for them all. My eldest loves this! We always end up missing a few which I discover at the end of the season when I fertilize the soil or in the next season when I suddenly have a potato growing between other vegetables.

So, how do you go about growing potatoes?

Step 1 – Ordering tubers

It is important to order potatoes early because they need time to sprout. I order my potatoes such that I have them no later than mid February and I always order two kinds, one for an early and one for a late harvest. I receive them at the same time, even though they do not go into the ground at the same time. This is not a problem as the late harvest potatoes simply sprout a bit longer.

I order my potatoes, as all my other seeds, from Zaadhandel van der Wal. They have many varieties to choose from and deliver fast to addresses in The Netherlands. You can best order the smallest package that is offered by your supplier. The reason is that there are always more potatoes in a package than you actually need and most often there are also more potatoes in the package than the estimate given by the supplier.

Step 2 – Sprouting potatoes

It is not compulsory to sprout potatoes, but it does give them a head start. Sprouting is particularly important for early harvest potatoes and requires at least three weeks. I always receive all my potatoes at the same time, meaning that my late harvest potatoes sprout a bit longer before going into the ground.

Sprouting happens when you leave the potatoes in a light, cool place where temperatures remain well above freezing. Ideally, the temperature should be around 12oC (54oF). I usually keep my potatoes in the scullery, or if it’s warm enough, in the garden shed. Take the potatoes out of their package and place them such that the side with the most eyes is facing upward (this is the side containing small dots). I place my tubers in old egg cartons. The holes in the cartons are perfect to keep the tubers right side up and helps to prevent damaging the sprouts when moving the tubers.

After at least three weeks there should be green sprouts on the potatoes. These sprouts are a few centimeters (approximately half to one inch) long and can contain a few small leaves. If the sprouts are long and white the tubers were kept in an environment which was too dark. Long, white sprouts are weak and break easily.

 Step 3 – Planting the tubers

Planting your sprouted tubers is the next step. Early potatoes can be planted from half March, if the ground is no longer frozen. Late harvest potatoes can be planted from end of April until beginning of May, although I have planted late harvest potatoes at the end of March in a warm year. Late harvest potatoes are slow growers, so the few extra weeks gained by planing them early makes little difference at the end of the day.

I dig trenches 20cm deep, 50cm apart. I plant the tubers 15cm deep in the middle of the trench, and approximately 15cm between potatoes in a trench.

When planing your tubers make sure not to break the sprouts as you will loose the head start the sprouts gave you. However, if you have short sprouts, the change of this happening is small. It can take anything from one to three weeks, depending on the weather, for the first leaves to appear. Make sure to give your tubers and young potato plants enough water to make sure they grow well.

Step 4 – Earth-up

Earthing up is the process where earth/soil is heaped over the plants to ensure that the newly developing potatoes remain underground. When potatoes are not covered properly they turn green and are no longer edible.

When the plants are 20cm in height it’s a good time to earth up for the first time. I earth up by closing the trench I planted the potatoes in. Inevitably you will cover a part of the leaves of the potato plants when earthing up your potatoes, but this is not a problem. Just make sure that there is still enough of the plant visible so that it can continue growing.

When the trenches are closed completely, I use the soil between the trenches to cover the potatoes. In my experience you need to earth up two or three times in a season.

Before earthing up

After earthing up

 

Step 5 – Preventing and treating diseases and bugs

Potato disease, or Phytophthora, is one of the most serious diseases that can hit your potatoes. Except using poison there is not much you can do to prevent it. Hence you have to make a choice, either go completely biological and hope for the best or take chemical measures to prevent your potatoes from getting ill. You can only take preventative measures, once the disease has struck there is nothing you can do.

In 2010 I had Phytophthora in my late harvest potatoes and lost the entire harvest as I caught it too late. You can recognize the disease from the brown spots that form on the leaves and after some time the plant dies and the potatoes rot away. The moment the leaves show the first symptoms you can best harvest all your potatoes, even if they are not fully grown yet. By doing this you can save about 80% of your potatoes. You will have to check your harvest every week for rotting potatoes and remove them to keep the rest from rotting away. This way you will have at least a partial harvest.

I once had rough patches on my potatoes. I have no idea what this is in English, in Dutch we call it ‘schurft’. These are rough spots on the potato, and although it doesn’t look very nice, you can still use and eat them. It is caused by too little moisture during the growth period of the potato.You can prevent this by watering your potatoes, especially during warm dry spells. Like I said, don’t worry about this.

When it comes to bugs the potato is again a sensitive plant. When the weather is warm, typically above 20oC (68oF) you can expect the Colorado Potato Beetle to make his appearance. It is actually a really beautiful beetle, but it can reek havoc on your plants. Make sure to catch and kill them all! If you don’t remove them, their orange eggs hatch and the larvae eat your potato plants to the ground. The larvae look a bit like lady bugs, but much less nice in nature. In warmer weather you will have to check your plants daily. Also check underneath the leaves for those telltale orange eggs! When you find eggs or larvae make sure to kill them and DON’T just through them in the bin alive. I usually pore boiling water over them.

Eggs from the Colorado Potato Beetle

Larva of a Colorado Potato Beetle

 

Step 6 – Harvesting

Cut off the leaves of the late harvest

Approximately two weeks before harvesting your late potatoes, cut off the leaves of the plants. This will make the potato’s skin tougher.

Harvest

Flowering potato plant

Harvesting potatoes is one of the most fun things to do with my kids, mine just love to help. It takes about 90 days from planting to harvesting and often, but not always, the potatoes are flowering when they are ready for harvesting. To harvest your potatoes, simply put your gardening fork in the ground at a reasonable distance from the stem of the plant and bring the soil up. Work from the outside in and try not to hit any potatoes in the process. The potatoes should be visible and now it is a free for all! It’s a good idea to let the potatoes dry an hour or two in the sun to let the skin harden.

It is impossible to prevent not damaging any potatoes during the harvest. Keep the damaged ones to the side and eat them first. Early potatoes you can harvest as needed, late potatoes you can best harvest all in one go.

Step 7 – Storage

Store your potatoes in a cool, dry and dark place so that they don’t start sprouting. Inevitably, at a certain point they will start sprouting anyway. If you want to prevent this you can treat your potatoes with an anti-sprouting powder. BUT DO TAKE NOTE: do not put potato peels from potatoes that have been treated with anti-sprouting power on your compost heap as this will kill all the useful bacteria and bugs in your compost heap!

Bon Apetite!

Ready for the new season!

Hey everyone,

Just look at what arrived last week! My seed order for this season. SO happy!! Can’t wait to get started. Unpacked it immediately. Of course I know what’s inside (at least I think I still know what I ordered a few months ago, but still it’s always so exciting)

Especially the potatoes and rhubarb have to be out of the box like ASAP. The potatoes get a nice sunny spot next to the kitchen door to sprout. The rhubarb I planted in a temporary pot because it’s a living plant and will die if it has to wait till I plant it in my vegi garden in a few weeks time.

Also the leeks that I sowed in the beginning of January are growing strong. Leeks are very slow growers and need time to get to a proper size to plant them. By end of April they should be thin pencils and ready to be planted in my garden.

Can’t wait for the summer to start. 🙂