Last year’s unexpected heatwave led to an unusually early crop of some of the best quality and largest harvests of strawberries enjoyed in the past 20 years.
We picked fragrant, deliciously sweet strawberries from May all the way through to September. Strawberries are one of my favourite summer fruits so I’m hoping we’ll be fortunate enough to experience something similar this year.
On plot one we have a strawberry bed; it’s now in it’s second year. We also have a few strawberry pots. We selected a number of different varieties, including Sonata and Elsanta, but our favourite variety has to be Tarpan. Tarpan is hybrid; it has beautiful dark rosie-red, semi-double flowers. It produces blooms and fruit all summer long and well into the autumn. The fruits are elongated with an intense sweet aromatic flavour.
Strawberry plants are reasonably easy to maintain. The plant sends out runners over the surface of the soil during the growing season. Usually in June or July. Whilst still attached to the mother plant, peg down the runner either side of the new crown. The new crown will produce roots and form a new plant. Once fully established, the plant can be cut free, typically in August. Don’t allow more than five runners to develop from each plant.
It’s best to pick fruits when the day is at it’s hottest; the fruits will be at their sweetest at this time.
At the end of the growing season the foliage will die back and go brown. It’s best to leave it like this over the winter months as it will provide the plant with some form of protection against the cold weather
In the spring remove all the dead foliage. This increases light and air circulation, helping the new leaves to develop healthily. I fed our strawberry plants with some seaweed fertiliser to help kick start them. Keep the plants well watered whilst the new leaves are developing.
The RHS suggests feeding fruiting plants with tomato feed with a high potash content to improve flower quality and fruit flavour. When the plants are in fruit, try to avoid watering from overhead as this may increase the chances of the fruit rotting. Using a mat of straw can also protect the fruits from soil splash.
As the plants get older it is advisable to thin out crown numbers. The RHS suggests pulling off the smaller crowns at the base, leaving just 3 to 4 crowns per plant. This will help concentrate the plants energy into producing good sized fruits. Didn’t know this and I’ll pop this job on the to do list!
After three years strawberry plants become less productive and more susceptible to disease. It’s also advisable to rotate strawberry beds every three years to help prevent diseases building up.