Nothing sums up summer better than a bowl of strawberries artfully decorated with fresh cream.
This year’s crop of strawberries is sweeter and more prolific thanks to the sun and this picker’s garden uses a classic mulch of straw to preserve moisture and to give the berries a dry bed on which to grow.
Whether you have a huge garden encapsulating a dedicated strawberry patch or no garden at all, strawberries truly are one of those quintessential delectable high value fantastic fruits that anyone can grow. The botanical name for strawberries is Frugaria, which in Latin means ‘fragrance’ and there is no ambiguity as to how this came about.
Possessing only a sunny porch or balcony, it is possible to grow a good number of these favourite fragrant berries, be it in a strawberry pot, a recycled gutter or in a hanging basket.
Strawberries need three things to grow well: lots of sunlight, rich soil, and good drainage. They are not grown from seed, but from ‘runners’, which are young plants that grow off parent plants in the previous season. Strawberry plants can be purchased but often you might find them going a begging.
Runners should be planted on in autumn or in early spring. Strawberries are best grown under a mulch to prevent competition from weeds and to keep the fruits clean and there is no surprise that the traditional mulching material for strawberries is straw.
With a polytunnel on site it is possible to start eating fresh Irish strawberries from mid-May and continue picking all through July into August. Containers are certainly a viable option and you just need to get a few important basics right to ensure container crop success.
Firstly, poor quality fruit is an indicator of unhappy plants so I recommend replanting your strawberries in a fresh potting mix if they appear to be struggling. All plants need access to nutrients to produce well and this is paramount when it comes to container strawberries.
They like rich soil, so include well-rotted farmyard manure or compost into the potting mix to improve soil structure and fertility.
These can also be applied as a top dressing the following year. During the growing season, give your plants liquid potash feeds such as a comfrey tea, every 7 to 14 days. This encourages healthy flower and fruit production.
Remember, that strawberries produce their best harvests in the first and second year after planting, so if your strawberries are old, replace them, that is, every 3 years. Change the soil in the container before replanting and never plant them too deep, ensuring the crown of the plant is at soil level.
Strawberries need plenty of moisture to help the fruit swell, so keep them well but not excessively watered. Plants in containers, and especially those in terracotta pots and strawberry planters, dry out quickly. If you are using a vertical planter, the challenge is often ensuring the bottom plants have water without over-watering the top plants. You can drill holes in a pipe and insert it into the pot before adding the soil so that water can seep out at all levels.
Traditionally served fresh with a splash of cream, they are delicious sprinkled over breakfast cereals, in fruit salads, smoothies and muffins.
Yoghurt can substitute cream for a healthier bite and both their colour and texture lends them well to fusing with a host of ingredients and appearing in both sweet and savoury dishes. Their fabulous natural colour makes them the ideal fruit for garnishes and from meringues to champagne, strawberries never fail to delight.
They are an ideal healthy treat also being low in calories, fat free, yet delicious on the lips.
A nutrient packed fruit, they are filled with antioxidants giving the body a natural wellness boost. Strawberries are naturally high in fibre, vitamin C and potassium, help maintain a healthy heart and can aid memory function. And would you believe, to get the same amount of Vitamin C as 8 to 10 of strawberries, you would need to eat 7 bananas.
Here’s a few things you mightn’t have known about this fruit:
* Strawberries have extremely soft skin and grow at ground level, which heightens their susceptibility to mould. This leads to them being one of the most heavily chemically treated fruits in the country. Bear this in mind if buying strawberries and make sure to go organic to avoid the nasty residues.
* Strawberries are the only fruit to have their seeds on their outside.
nBorage with its pretty blue flowers is a good companion plant to strawberries.
* Strawberries have been used as a poultice to treat skin problems such as acne and eczema. They also clean and whiten the teeth and are said to relieve sting of sunburn.
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