There are many reasons to ‘grow-your-own’, but surely top of that list is flavour: there are some shop-bought crops that simply cannot even begin to compete with the literally mouth-watering freshness of their home-grown cousins.
If you want a banquet of to-die-for strawberries, NOW is the time to act. Young plants or bare-root transplants established this month will put on enough growth to give an excellent crop early next summer, and then for several more years to come. They are available widely at this time of year, and any friends or family with an established crop will have a plentiful supply of ‘runners’- offsets from the parent plant.
Strawberries are one of those crops where it’s best to establish a bed specifically and only for them- even a block of 1sq m should be enough to give a plentiful supply. If you have more than 1 pod, then maybe devote 1 of them to this most British of crops, if you only have 1, then maybe now’s the time to buy a second!
The key to success for a fab crop of succulent fruit is soil preparation- the ground needs to be weed-free and full of organic matter. The better you prepare the bed, the more you’ll be rewarded.
Start by digging out any perennial weeds, roots and all, then add heaps of organic matter such as well rotted garden compost or horse manure-at least a couple of buckets for a medium pod (remove some of the old compost to accommodate if necessary). Work that into the top 6-8 inches (15-20cm), then plant your plants.
You want to maximise your returns, so plant a little more closely than in traditional beds- 30cm is ideal- so 9 plants in a medium pod. Be careful not to bury the crowns, i.e. the central growing point of the plant, otherwise they’ll rot and die. Firm in and water well. Keep the mesh cover on throughout the winter. This will allow air and moisture in but keep the worst of the weather out. Then, in late February, replace that cover with the winter cover. This will help build up and retain heat from the early spring sunshine, and bring your crop on much earlier. If you choose an early fruiting variety such as ‘Honeoye’ you could be picking punnets of fruit when they’re still at extortionate prices in the shops – AND they’ll knock you out with their flavour!
If you’re really clever, you can make even more from the space and squeeze several ‘catch crops’ in around these developing plants, including salads, herbs and carrots- we’ll devote more to this subject another time, so watch this space.
Whichever route you choose, get busy now and start dreaming of a glorious summer harvest…