Picking your own sweet and juicy strawberries straight from the plant, along with the satisfaction of having grown them yourself, is hard to beat.
Any garden, even a balcony, is large enough to grow strawberries, and unlike many fruits they will crop well in pots, growing bags and even hanging baskets, as well as a sunny patch of earth soon after planting – so they’re great for impatient gardeners!
You can buy young plants in spring from healthy certified stock and for an extended strawberry season, choose a selection of summer varieties that fruit throughout June and July as well as Perpetuals such as Mara des Bois that will deliver a second crop in September. If you de-blossom the Perpetuals in May they will only produce heavy late crop later in the year.
Consider too, Day Neutrals such as the variety Ostara, which are ready for picking just 12 weeks after planting and add some of the tiny fragrant and sweet tasting Wild or Alpine Strawberries for the occasional treat. Also consider covering plants with a cloche earlier in the year, for fruit up to 10 days earlier.
When it comes to selecting varieties it’s best to go for reliable croppers such as Cambridge Favourite, which has a sweet tangy taste and new varieties like Buddy that deliver high yields of deep red sweet fruit virtually continuously from June to September
For excellent disease resistance there is the incredibly sweet Cupid, which is a late cropper that performs well on any soil. Ideally look for Look for healthy, disease-resistant varieties such as Florence. And, if you garden in northern England or Scotland try Tamella.
For an instant bumper crop you can rely on the variety Elsanta as this requires very little ‘settling in’ time. To have fruit all summer long though, it’s best to grow the large June fruiting varieties such as Hapil, Guarigette and Sweetheart, which fruit for around two to three weeks.
To enjoy strawberry desserts all summer long, plant the mid-season fruiting Cambridge Favourite and Everbearing types, such as Flamenco that produce crops during spring, summer and autumn and up to 10kg of fruit during the season.
A strawberry with bright and colourful flowers as well as sweet and tasty fruits just has to be a winner
Strawberry Toscana is an everbearing variety so as summer progresses there are both pink flowers and fruits on the plant at the same time. Grow it in a container on the patio or deck – it not only looks good and tastes good too!
Just Add Cream (thompson-morgan.com) is another decorative strawberry plant with pretty pink flowers that keeps on cropping from early May to the first frost.
Pink Panda is exactly like a small strawberry plant, except that the flowers are pink. It makes a very attractive ground cover and edging plant and although used as an ornamnetal plant, the berries are edible
To save a lot of work later in the season, plant them through a fabric membrane to stop weeds and keep the fruit clean
If you’re planning on growing strawberries in the garden, find them a sheltered, sunny spot with good fertile soil and space them 45cm apart in rows 30cm apart. You’ll likely find that in the first year after planting you will get a small crop then in the second and third year a large crop after which you will see a decline so it’s best to replace plants.
On the patio up to 10 plants can be planted in a Growbag and there are self watering stackable tower pots and special strawberry tubs that have the capacity to grow up to 30 plants, which can be squeezed into the tightest corner, so there’s no excuse not to grow your own.
The advantage of growing in pots is that the fruits tend to hang down so they don’t become soil stained and as air circulates freely around there is less risk of them rotting
An old trick that works is to spray fruit bushes with fresh urine to stop soft fruits such as raspberries, strawberries and blackberries from going mouldy.
A booster feed of Organic Liquid Strawberry Feed will give them plenty of stamina to perform. And birds and slugs will no doubt challenge you for first pickings, so to keep them at bay, cover the plants with netting and put down a gritty mulch to stop slugs and snails in their tracks.
After fruiting, trim off the foliage to just above the crown, and remove unwanted runners. Rake away old straw that’s been used as mulch to protect the fruit from getting dirty and put in the compost bin.
Make more plants
In late summer you can also propagate you own new plants. Simply select healthy runners on mature plants. Peg them down into 9cm pots of moist compost using a small piece of wire.
After about 6-8 weeks, any well-rooted runners can be severed from the parent plant and planted, 45cm apart in rows 30cm apart, in a sunny spot with well-nourished soil
Keep plants healthy
During late spring and early summer, your juicy, fresh strawberries can also bring pests such as aphids, slugs, nematodes, birds, and even wasps.
A simple defense against pests is to plant marigolds nearby, which will see off the nematodes. Planting mint, basil, lemon geraniums, garlic, chives, or onions will release scents that will mask the sweet aroma of the strawberry plant.
A scarecrow is a good way to keep birds away from your strawberries.
Slugs find beer irresistible, so dig a hole near your fresh strawberry plants, take an empty margarine container and put it in the hole. The container rim should be level with the soil surface. Fill the container with beer and the slugs will come to drink and fall into the container and drown in the beer. Empty the container and refill it every day.
Slugs and snails also dislike copper so fix copper strips around the perimeter of the garden placing them so they stand above the soil with around 3cm buried deep into the ground.
Covering the crop with Enviromesh Ultrafine will prevent wasps reaching the ripe fruit
Succulent and sweet strawberries with a dollop of thick cream sums up the British summer and as well as eating them fresh, strawberries make delicious jam and purees and if you mash up an overripe strawberry it can even be used to whiten your teeth!
It might sound weird but the strawberry taste is enhance by a dash of balsamic vinegar and a twist of blsck pepper.
For a sweet treat strawberries dipped in chocolate tastes divine – simply hold the strawberries by toothpicks and dip them into melted chocolate
And next time you are having a garden party or inviting friends and family to tea you must try them in a trifle with sherry soaked Madeira cake and topped with custard and cream or my favourite ‘adults only’ stylish dessert by lacing the fruit with orange liqueur and smothering them with whipped cream.
Strawberry ice cream
200g strawberries hulled
4 tbs homemade strawberry jam
600ml double cream 600ml carton
397g tin condensed milk
25g freeze-dried wild strawberries
Put the strawberries and jam in a blender and whizz until smooth. Then using a sieve, strain out the seeds.
Put the double cream and condensed milk into a large mixing bowl. Using an electric whisk beat them together until the mixture is thick and can hold peaks.
Gently fold in the fruit through the creamy mixture.
Finally fold in the whole freeze-dried strawberries then put the mix into a freezer-proof container and freeze until solid and ready to serve.
1kg jam sugar with pectin
Juice of ½ lemon
Hull and pick through the strawberries, discarding any blemished fruit
Put the sugar into a preserving pan then add the fruit and lemon juice and stir gently.
Put the pan on a medium heat, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 15 -18 minutes, skimming off any scum as it appears.
To test for a set – put a saucer in the freezer and when it is cold, drop a small spoonful of jam on to it. Allow the jam to cool then push your finger through it – if the jam wrinkles it’s ready; if not, boil for a few more minutes. Continue testing until a set has been reached.
When the jam is ready, turn off the heat and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes to prevent the fruit rising in the jars.
Spoon the jam into jars. Seal tightly with screw top lids while it is hot and label.
Strawberry Daiquiri cocktail
A daiquiri is white rum with the juice of a lime and sugar to sweeten, which is simply whizzed up with some crushed ice in a blender and poured into glasses