I spend an awful lot of time writing long, philosophical posts about how great gardening is (because it is) and how much it has changed my life (because it has) but I’d like to spend a little bit more time actually writing about the plants I grow, some tips for growing them yourselves and asking you guys for some advice (because I always need it). So, I’ve decided to pick one plant a week to chat about and hopefully get some feedback and advice on growing.
So, welcome to the very first Fiona Grows Food Plants Bants (yes I’m hilarious). This week, given that we’re in the height of strawberry season, I thought it would be good to have some bants about these wonderful plants that provide us with everyone’s favourite summer treat.
For anyone who was privileged enough to witness me in all my glory last week at GIY’s Food Matters tent at Bloom festival (I’m very humble lads), you’ll have heard me harping on about how easy it is to grow strawberries in small spaces. Strawberries are one of those plants that fare very well in containers, this is due in part to their shallow root structure. The roots of a strawberry plant sit very close to the surface of the soil and instead of growing ver deep down into the soil, they fan out, much like the plant above ground. This makes strawberries an ideal container plant as you can grow them in practically any container available. The only thing is, you’ll need to watch out for the roots which can often come above soil so ensure you top them up with fresh compost if this happens.
There are special pots you can buy for strawberries, usually a ceramic urn with holes around the side but I would urge you to make your own or reuse some old containers you have lying around. I’m a big fan of up-cycling in the garden. Old gutters are great for growing strawberries and look lovely on a shed or a wall, just ensure you still some holes through the bottom for drainage.
Growing strawberries in containers also had the added advantage of helping to protect your berries from disease and rot. When growing strawberries in the ground, it is often necessary to place straw or similar over the soil to prevent your berries from rotting as they sit on the damp soil below, if you grow them in containers, particularly in hanging baskets or in old guttering, the fruits hang over the edge as opposed to sitting on the soil, making the dreaded rot less likely.
I grow my own strawberries in raised beds and I’ve been plagued with this problem in the past week, my strawberries have begun to ripen in the pay few days and about half my crop has been lost due to rot. I only have myself to blame for this as I took my eye off the ball and didn’t take preemptive action. I shall return to my war council room (shed) and concoct a covert operation in which to combat this enemy. I shall not be defeated.
Planting & Caring For Your Strawberries
Strawberies are difficult to grow from seed so plant young plants instead. Space your plants about a foot apart. Strawberries need one very important element of care and that is keeping them well watered. Well watered strawberries will produce lovely fat fruits but if the plants are too dry, the fruit will shrivel up.
Here’s my favourite thing about strawberry plants: strawberries clone themselves (which is just the coolest thing ever for a massive science fiction fan like myself). Strawberry plants send out runners, also known as stolons, long stems which root themselves into the soil creating a clone plant. With most plants, if you want to plant more in the following year, you collect seeds, with strawberries, you build yourself a clone army.
Simply let the new plant root on the spot if you don’t mind your plants spreading out. If you’re growing in smaller spaces or containers, you can simply fill a pot with compost and place the new clone into the pot and wait for it to take root before cutting it from the mother plant (mothership) and voila: strawberry clone army.
Strawberries usually have their best crop in their second year and in good conditions will crop well for 5 years. However, after three full years, the production of strawberry plants slows considerably so it pays to take runners every year so you have a constant yield of fruit.
Strawberries are undeniably delicious and unfortunately we’re not the only animal to think so. Birds are absolute strawberry savages and you need to net your plants when they begin to ripen or they’ll be savaged by your local bird population. And while I’m all for feeding the birds (cue that song from Mary Poppins) there’s nothing worse than spending weeks excitedly waiting for your strawberries to ripen only to have them eaten by birds.
I grow a very popular variety of strawberry called Elsanta. These are a very reliable cropper and produce large, sweet fruits. I’ve just begun to harvest my strawberries this week and they’re delicious. Strawberries generally fruit in June but there are some ever bearing varieties that produce fruit twice a year.
I did notice the other day that I seem to have spittlebugs on my strawberry leaves. Now as far as I know, these are pretty harmless to the plant but the big globs of spit-like foam they leave on the plants is a bit manky looking so if anyone has any tips to combat this, they’d be greatly appreciated.
If anyone has any plant they’d like me to have the bants about next week get in touch and I’ll get on it.
Now, go forth and multiply. Build your strawberry clone army. Pretect them from the rebel scum.Build a sweet empire.