Chandler_strawberriesHere’s the second article in the new series ‘Eat Me’. This one has been written by another of the participants in the ‘Grow Your Own’ course that I ran recently in Foulsham, Norfolk.

Strawberries- a guest article by Colin Ferris

The fruit of the strawberry is not a berry but rather is a pseudo fruit or accessory fruit; some would not even accept the definition as a fruit. Indeed what appear to be the seeds on the outside are achenes, each of which is really a single seeded fruit.

Close up of strawberry
Close up of strawberry

HISTORY

The  wild strawberry Fragaria vesca was the first to be grown and cultivated for its fruit until the hybrid ‘garden strawberry’ Fragaria x ananassa was bred in France in 1750. It is a cross between the North American  F. virginiana and  F. chiloensis  from Chile.

CLASSIFICATION

Fragaria is a flowering plant (Angiosperm) in the family Rosaceae. The Genus Fragaria contains about 20 species plus many hybrids and cultivars. The structure of the strawberry plant is quite typical of a member of the rose family, most noticeably when looking at the flower with its five petals.

Botanical-Fruit-Strawberry-2

CULTIVATION

Whilst generally considered in this country as a very typical British fruit, it is surprising to find that the UK does not even make it in the top ten of the world strawberry producers. By far the biggest producer is the USA, growing about 1.5 million tons of fruit per year. Strawberries grow well in any fertile soil and respond well to the addition of manure or fertiliser. It is not advisable however to grow them in soil that has previously been used to grow potatoes, chrysanthemums or tomatoes, due to the build up of soil pests and diseases. Plants will grow well for four or five years after which they decline and do not fruit well. It is thus best to replace them when four years old but not to grow the new plants in the same soil previously used for strawberries, i.e. employ suitable crop rotation.

Strawberries being grown hydroponically
Strawberries being grown hydroponically

PLANTING

Plant rooted runners or bought plants in fertile but well drained soil either in the ground, or in any form of container that can be suitably positioned in a sunny place and watered frequently. Plant in autumn or early spring but avoid cold wet weather and avoid areas prone to frost. Space plants about 14 inches apart with 30 inches between rows.  Keep plants well watered especially in dry spells but take care not to rot the crown with too much water given from above.  When fruits begin to form a mulch, typically straw, should be tucked underneath them to prevent rotting from the soil. Keep weed free. After cropping has finished remove old leaves and straw. If you will not be using them runners should be removed to prevent energy being wasted on them.

Strawberry flower
Strawberry flower

PROPAGATION

In order to produce new plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant, it is best to use strawberry runners. The stolons or runners produced by the plant are a form of vegetative reproduction and so produces plants that are genetically identical to the parent. It is important to let the new plants remain on the runner until a good healthy set of roots has formed.

CULTIVARS

Summer fruiting varieties These are the most popular with large fruits over a short but heavy cropping period of a few weeks. There are early, mid-, and late types.

Perpetual varietiesThese have a much longer fruiting season but fruits are smaller and crops not so heavy.

Strawberry display at Chelsea Flower Show 2009
Strawberry display at Chelsea Flower Show 2009

PROBLEMS

Fungus – Botrytis grey mould, powdery mildew, leaf spot, Verticillium wilt, and red core: remove dead material immediately, lower humidity around plants, remove weeds and prevent overcrowding.

PestsRed spider mite, seed beetle and vine weevil: use appropriate sprays or preferably biological control. Birds: use netting or preferably a fruit cage, bird scarers may help but generally are of little benefit.

USES

Strawberries have such a wonderful flavour that they are used in so many recipes that it is impossible to list them. They are best when picked fully ripe (bright red in colour) when the sun has warmed them, and they taste extremely good with a little sprinkling of sugar and some fresh cream. Given that they crop heavily over a short period, strawberries are often used to make jam.

Strawberries and Cream- the tatse of an English summer...
Strawberries and Cream- the tatse of an English summer…

Old School Gardener