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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!