Strawberries fall into two groups – day neutral and short day types. Day neutral plants (also called everbearers) will set fruit whenever the temperature allows, basically between 20 and 30 degrees C, but the taste of the fruit is not as intense (most strawberries you buy will be day neutral because growers want the long production season). Short day types need a minimum amount of darkness to produce – they will produce fruit in mid spring to early summer and then again in early autumn – but they have superior flavour. We have both types – ideally to give us a season of good tasting fruit, from last to first frost.
Members of the Rosaceae family (roses, apples, pears – 5 petalled flowers), they grow in clumps about 15cm high and from 50cm across and they propogate by sending out runners which form new plants. Some varieties of the everbearing type produce multiple crowns, rather than runners. Grown on mounds, they won’t tolerate waterlogging (though they are water loving) and need free draining soil.
Autumn – Harvest the last of the crop, cut back plants: trim stalks and leaves to just above the crowns (leave one or two leaves), cut out dead and spent fruit and leaves and runners.
Winter – Cut back plants: trim leaves to just above the crowns, cut out dead and spent fruit and leaves and runners. Each plant should be about 10cm in size with a few leaves left. Divide crowns, replant them or plant new ones (every three or four years it is worthwhile bringing in fresh crowns) Feed the soil with lime or dolomite and a slow release organic fertiliser or compost. When planting, make sure the crown is above the soil surface by a centimeter or two, not below the soil or the plant will rot. Plant at about 40cm spacing with 30cm between mounds/rows. Water in well.
Spring – Harvest starts as soon as temperatures and daylength increase. As soon as the plants start to flower, apply potash (a handful of wood ash) around the plants to encourage fruit set. Avoid leaving rotting fruit on the plants, pick regularly and trim any dead or spent leaves or fruit and trim plants to ensure airflow through the crown to avoid rot or fungus. Feed with diluted wormjuice or seaweed/fish or compost tea (liquid) tonic (at most, 1 part to ten parts water) every few weeks. Keep well (but not over) watered – strawberries have shallow roots and a large leaf area to lose moisture through. Using the moisture meter can help gauge needs.
Summer – Keep regular harvesting and watering regime. Avoid leaving rotting fruit on the plants and trim any dead or spent leaves or fruit. Trim plants to ensure airflow through the crown to avoid rot or fungus. If powdery mildew occurs, use a milk spray with one part milk to about 10 parts water. Or try a mix of BD equisetum prep or casuarina leaf tea. Trimming can be more severe than in Spring because the plants are growing more vigorously. If you don’t want to propogate more plants for next year, prune off the runners as they are sent out. Feed with wormjuice or seaweed/fish or compost tea (liquid) tonic every few weeks. Try and leave some stalk on and harvest with scissors to avoid damaging the fruit.
Generally – Mulch with rockdust or biodegradable weedmat (eg. weed gunnel) to keep roots cool in summer and supress weeds without encouraging slugs and snails. Some sources suggest pine needles as a great mulch as they prefer slight acidity. Slugs, snails, milipedes and slaters are the bane of strawberries! Use traps and any means to avoid them. Borage is a good companion plant. Keep up the trimming as they grow to concentrate growth into fruit production, with the main pruning in late autumn and winter. Enjoy the harvest!
Eating – Fresh, not chilled (take out of the frig 10 minutes before eating, if they get that far!) with cream or a splash of balsamic vinegar,