Nothing beats a homegrown strawberry for flavour …especially when they’ve been grown organically…and autumn is a great time to be starting a strawberry patch, or rejuvenating an existing one.
If you’ve already got some established plants in the ground… keep in mind, the original mother plants are only good for two or three years, after which their level of productiveness drops considerably. If you only planted them last year, then you could just give them a clean-up with hedge sheers to remove all the raggedy old foliage, follow up with a feed and a drink and you’re on your way. If your plants are a bit older than that, then you are better off choosing some of the young healthy runners that have appeared over the summer and replanting them… they’ll grow more vigorously and be far more productive. If you are replanting, then be sure to find a new piece of ground so that you avoid a buildup of common strawberry diseases.
If you’re planting strawberries for the first time, then only choose stock that has been certified disease free – be careful buying strawberries from backyard growers at weekend markets – you could end up bringing home a nasty virus. Most accredited nurseries however should have certified stock, but it doesn’t hurt to ask just to make sure.
So what do strawberries like? You need to find them an open, sunny spot where the soil is well drained. Dig in some well-rotted compost as well as a handful of blood and bone per square metre along with a tight fistful of sulphate of potash. Once that’s dug through, mound the soil to improve the drainage.
Plant your runners about 30cm apart, making sure you leave the central growing point of the plant, or ‘crown’, just above the soil surface… otherwise it may rot.
It’s important to lay some mulch around the plants… not only to control weeds and preserve soil moisture, but also to keep the developing fruit off the ground and avoid spoiling. Straw is the traditional choice for mulch… that’s why they are called strawberries… no joke. Some gardeners swear by mixing some common pine needles with the straw… because it makes the soil slightly acidic, which strawberries like.
If you don’t have the space to grow strawberries in ground, then you grow them in pots. They’re the perfect container crop. Big, black plastic pots are best because they absorb heat and keep the roots warmer over winter. Always choose a good quality potting mix, and add some slow release fertiliser, one that’s formulated for fruiting plants, so that your strawberries have a well-balanced diet.
For a bumper crop, keep the soil evenly moist, and give the plants a weekly feed with liquid fertiliser. Keep that up and you can expect to be enjoying your first harvest of super sweet strawberries in about 12 weeks. Normally, plants will keep producing well into spring… if any runners appear during the peak production period, chop them off so they don’t compete with the main plant for water and nutrients.
I’ve got about 50 runners on my old plants, and I intend to pot up every one of them, because this year, I want to see if I can live on a simple diet of strawberries and cream. I’m sure it can be done, and I’ll let you know how I get on.