This weekend has witnessed great excitement in the Real Men Sow household – the first of our strawberries have turned bright red and are crying out to be eaten!
There is very little on an allotment or veg patch to match the good old strawberry for taste. A homegrown strawb really is something behold, but the season is fairly short, so get stuck in!
What’s more, they’re easy to grow. They just need sun, a little shelter, and decent, well-drained soil.
Once the plants start flowering though, they do need some attention to make sure that you get the best-tasting crops. Here are 5 things to keep an eye out for over the coming weeks.
Put Straw Around Your Plants
This benefits your strawberry harvest threefold. The straw helps keeps the weeds down for starters (hand pull any weeds that do come out, as strawberry roots are shallow and easily disturbed), and also stops fruit rotting on damp soil after rain showers.
The last thing you want after waiting so long is soggy strawbs.
I’ve also found that the rough texture of the straw keeps the slugs and snails away. I’ve had problems already this year with hungry slimies, and this is a job I need to get on with fast.
Once cropping is over, remove the straw to keep things clean and help prevent pests and diseases from building up.
Strawberries are pretty much all water and need lots of moisture to bulk up. Water most days during a dry period, and water from the bottom to reduce the chance of the fruit rotting.
Netting From the Birds
If birds are a problem, consider netting, but one neat trick is to remove the nets after harvest to let the birds feed on the remaining pests.
Pick the fruits when they are bright red all over. Strawberries ripen fast, so try and check every day. You don’t want to miss the best ones!
The hottest part of the day is the best time to harvest strawberries, as the flavour much stronger when the fruits are warm.
Strawberries really do taste incredible straight from the plant, so eat your pickings as soon as you can. I love nothing more than grabbing a handful after dinner for a quickfire dessert.
You’ll no doubt notice that your plants will start to send out connected stems all over the patch. These are ‘runners’, and can be potted on to create fresh plants for next year.
Propagating from your own plants is ace, as its free, easy, and lets you choose the biggest, healthiest looking runners.
All you need to do is take the little roots on the runners and poke them into a pot of multi-purpose compost. Use a stone to weigh the roots down, and once established you can cut if from the parent plant. Give the root a very gentle tug, and if it shows resistance, you snip the runner.
And if you get a glut of strawberries, a few pots of sumptuous strawberry jam is a must! Strawberries are low in pectin, but mixing in some lemon juice helps achieve a good set.