Tag Archive: England


Rose, picture via Sociedad Argentina de Horticultura

Rose, picture via Sociedad Argentina de Horticultura

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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

child with wheellbarrowAcross the developed world there is concern about a growing ‘disconnect’ between children and the natural world around them – increased time spent indoors, less time out playing – the scenario is well reported. School gardening projects are an important way to reconnect children with nature.

School gardening, like ‘growing your own’ seems to be on the increase in the UK as we look for ways of bridging the ‘ecological disconnect’, saving money, reducing ‘food miles’, improving food quality and strengthening local economies. There’s powerful evidence that school gardening is one, convenient and effective way of ‘learning outside the classroom’. A way of helping to engage children with the natural world and to deal effectively with some other important issues at the same time by:

  • raising academic achievement
  • promoting healthy eating
  • instilling a sense of responsibility for the world around us
  • encouraging social and community development and a ‘sense of place’
  • providing a place for unstructured, imaginative play

In Norfolk, England, the voluntary group of Mastergardeners is playing its part in supporting around 20 schools and many others are waiting to connect with a suitably trained volunteer in their area to develop new school gardening initiatives.

I’ve been helping a primary school to develop its school garden, which now has several raised planting beds (one for each class) and a recently completed wildlife pond with dipping platform and boggy planting areas. I tried to engage the children in growing food with a short session about the food they like to eat and where it comes from, why growing our own is important and the different types of fruit and veg we could grow. We ended up with each child making their own paper pot and sowing a broad bean seed – these were later transferred by the children to the school garden and formed a wonderful source of ‘free sweets’ during the summer!

making paper pots - an easy way to get children involved in 'growing their own'

Making paper pots – an easy way to get children involved in ‘growing their own’

The whole community– governors, staff, parents, children, local businesses together with ‘shopping voucher’ and grant schemes have played their part in creating this valuable resource. The new gardening year is about to kick off with a ‘Garden Gang’ (parents, children, staff and friends of the school) session on Saturday to get the beds ready, complete the greenhouse (made out of canes and plastic bottles) and plant some new apple trees.

Other Mastergardeners are playing their parts around the County. This includes several new and more established gardens at secondary and primary schools and a novel ‘inter – generational’ project in Norwich, where some spare ground behind a library has been turned into a food growing plot by children from a local school, library staff and older people from a sheltered housing scheme overlooking the site.

One secondary school gardening coordinator recently wanted to introduce children to the ideas of ‘veg families‘ and crop rotation. She printed out 56 small veg pictures and separate names – the first task was for the students to ID the veg. Then they looked at veg families (with the students placing  the different vegetables into different groups ) –  then they used their computers to create their own set of ‘Veg family prints’. Finally, they looked at crop rotation and by the end of the session they had come up with a basic 4 bed rotation over 4 years, along with a write-up explaining about why we rotate crops yearly.

school gardening a century ago- birth of the 'kindergarten'

School gardening a century ago- birth of the ‘kindergarten’

School gardening has been around a long time – originally developing as part of the formal school curriculum at a time when many more households grew their own food. There were war – time efforts to boost food production at schools and the ‘Kindergarten’ movement saw playing and being creative in an outdoor setting as the heart of nursery education.

school gardening in wartime- US style

School gardening in war time- US style

Recently in the UK the Food Growing in Schools Taskforce, led by Garden Organic was established as a response to increasing concerns about the health and well-being of children and young people, and a confidence that food growing in schools is a successful way of dealing with these concerns, delivering many benefits. The Taskforce is made up of people representing a diverse set of interests, but all with a strong belief that food growing in schools is an important activity. You can read their findings here.

Getting the whole community involved in the school garden

Getting the whole community involved in the school garden

Over the coming weeks I plan to post a series of articles about how to go about setting up and developing a school garden, so if you have any experiences or ideas to share I’d love to hear from you!

Old School Gardener

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