March is a great time to think about planting strawberries, or in my case sorting out the tangled mass of weeds and runners from last year’s crop. One day, I will manage to do this in autumn and save myself a lot of pain.
Top five reasons to grow strawberries:
- They cost a fortune to buy in shops (and one hidden furry one can ruin the whole box.)
- Shop bought strawberries come with free chemicals, and you probably don’t want to eat those. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) non-organic strawberries are more likely to contain illegal levels of pesticides than any other fruit or vegetable. Even organic ones may have some pesticide residue. *
- Nothing tastes as good as a freshly picked strawberry, still warm from the sun, eaten right where it was grown.
- Strawberries are full of vitamins and antioxidants and contain less sugar than most other fruits.
- You’ll always have an answer when the kids ask: ‘what’s for pudding?’ (Well, for a few weeks of the year, anyway. But at least they won’t moan when it involves the word fruit.)
How to grow strawberries:
Strawberries are easy to grow, but tend to be accompanied by confusing terminology like cold-stored runners, pegging down, and crowns (nothing to do with royalty.) Don’t be put off – here’s everything you need to know to grow your own.
Strawberries are bought as plants or runners, and planted in autumn or spring. Obviously, if you’re reading this in March, you’ve missed the autumn window. That’s fine – spring is good too.
In spring your best bet is to buy some cold-stored runners – these are basically bits of roots with a couple of leaves that have been kept in a fridge – don’t be alarmed, they’re healthier than they look and will produce fruit within 60 days. Amazing. You can order cold-stored runners online. Do it now (well, once you’ve finished reading this.)
How to plant strawberries:
Dig a small hole and stick the plant in it so the roots are all underground but the crown (the hub where everything grows from) is above soil level, so it doesn’t rot. Firm the soil around the plant. Leave gaps of about 35cm between plants and 75cm between rows.
Water regularly at the base of the plant, rather than on the fruit or leaves. Once the flowers appear, you can give them some liquid feed once a week (anything with potassium like nettle tea is good – I’ll write about this nearer the time.)
When the strawberries start to appear, stick some straw underneath them to keep them off the soil and stop them rotting. This might also deter slugs. (Or it might not – those bastards will risk suicide for strawberries.)
If birds take an interest in your strawberries, cover the plants with netting. You could try a scarecrow, except most birds aren’t that stupid.
Strawberry plants need replacing after about 5 or 6 years.
The easiest way to do this is to use the runners sent out by existing plants – these are the long stems that run across the ground and sprout baby plants. Simply peg them down with small hoops of bent wire, or hairpins and once the new plant is well rooted (after about four weeks) cut the runner and you have a new plant. This is supposed to be done in the autumn, but if like me, you don’t manage it, do it in the spring. It’s just a bit more work as the plants will be quite messy.
That’s it. Time to buy your cold-stored runners. Could be the best thing you grow this year.