This is part 3 of a 5 part series of posts designed to show you the easiest fruit and vegetables to grow in your garden, on the allotment, and on the balcony. In fact especially on the balcony because space is no reason you can’t grow fruit and veg.
Today’s turn is the very humble but exceedingly delicious – Strawberry
Nothing says summer like strawberries. Pretty expensive both in the shops, and the PYO places (which undoubtedly is a lot of fun) , this is why strawberries an excellent choice for growing at home instead. Plus they are incredibly easy to grow.
Why grow strawberries?
The great thing about this fruit is it can be eaten fresh off the plant(s), frozen, stewed, preserved and even dried so when people say the strawberry season is short, what they actually mean is the picking fresh is relatively short, if you can resist eating them all at once you could store them for up to six months. Combine that with a clever planting scheme and you’d have nine months worth of strawberries in supply. Not bad for such a little fruit.
Strawberries are a fantastic sauce of vitamin C. Just 7 fruits make up one portion of the recommended five a day (who would only eat 7?!), and to add to that the fruit has great antitoxidants which fight all those free radicals around your body.
So good news fruit. Further to that we come back to the cost element. Strawberries are expensive in shops not because the crops are hard to cultivate, and especially not because they can’t grow enough plants to make it profitable. They are costly because there is no other way to pick the fruit other than by hand which means labour costs which is why the GYO came into it’s own.
That said if you’re going to pick someone else fruit, well you might as well pick your very own home grown!
How to grow
You can buy a set of runner plants from garden centers and online for anywhere between £5 – £24 depending on how many you get in a set. Some places sell just one variety, whereas if you want to keep the harvest going for longer three varieties are better to grow and will be sold, usually in sets of four x the three varieties, giving you 12 plants.
Yes I think the plants are expensive too but if I told you that once you bought them you’d never have to buy any more ever again, would that sound more tempting? I thought so. I shall tell you more at the end of the post.
Decide where you’re going to grow them and even more importantly how much space you’re going to allow. You can grow the plants in pots, dedicated pop up (plastic) planters, terracotta planters and raised beds.
Strawberry plants are usually called ‘runners’ This is because they spur out little runners as they grow, along the ground.
I’ve grown mine, in previous yrs, in a pop up planter and it was very successful. It takes up very little room, only needs a bag of compost to fill (about 45 ltrs), and holds 12 plants. The planter has eight holes around the side of the planter and as you fill it up with compost you add the plants, and poke them through the holes so by high summer the fruits are trailing down the planter.
- If you’re going to grow in the ground – fork the space over, add compost or manure and plant the runners, in rows.
- Water the plants and keep watering well in dry weather.
Here’s the important part:-
Even though you can buy plants at this time of year. You’re not going to get a heavy crop this same yr. Strawberries like to get established before they really start to get fruity.
If you plant any time between now, in May, right up to September you will not get any/much fruit. If you see places saying otherwise, don’t get fooled! Varieties are a plenty but strawberries, as a plant, does not change it’s habit. You’re buying now to invest for next summer.
Fast forwarding to next May…
Your plants are once again showing new signs of growth. They have survived the past winter through having either been sheltered or cloches and look well established in their new home.
- If growing the plants in the ground now is the time to add straw, or matting around the base of each plant, and add slug pellets. If using a planter then you don’t need to worry.
- Continue to water the plants.
- Feed the plants, preferable liquid feed, especially if in planters or pots.
- Watch the fruit grow
- Get excited
- Shoo the birds away from the developing fruit, round about late May (I cover mine with netting)…and
- Pick your own strawberries from June on-wards.
Pests and diseases
- Aphids and slugs/snails are the two most common pests you’re going to have to do battle with. However in my experience of growing strawberry plants organic slug pellets work wonders to keep the slugs at bay, while horticultural soap gets rid of any nasty aphid attacks
- Frost damage will be visible to the plants if not protected enough over winter. The leaves begin to turn brown or black and look decidedly ugly. Cut them away and the plant should begin throwing out new leaves later on in the year.
- Mildew. This is created when there is too much moisture and not enough air getting to the plant. The plant starts to have a grew, furry like appearance and will eventually die. So that’s why it’s important to keep the fruit off the ground by using straw etc. If growing in pots/planters allow the plant full light and air on the hottest of days and don’t over water the plants.
As always check the plants regularly and deal with any problems as soon as you see them. That way any issues can be kept under control much easier.
Never buying strawberry plants again
Okay, so you know how I said earlier that plants were expensive to buy? You’ll find that the plants you bought will last three to five years before they need replacing. Every yr around July on-wards the plants will begin to throw out runners. These are you’re new plants!
Take the strongest runner from each plant, and add it to a little 7cm pot, while still attached to the mother plant. Or if growing in the ground, peg the runners into the soil. Wait four weeks and then sever it from the mother plant. Keep the new plants in a grow house over winter and plant as above.