Brian Kidd: The fruit that says '˜summer's here'
It's great to be eating strawberries and I've been picking about eight every day from the allotment greenhouse.
They were planted in five-inch diameter pots in John Innes No3 compost last autumn and left out in the cold. They were brought into the unheated greenhouse on February 2 and are now producing a tasty crop. They are fed with Maxicrop All Purpose plant food once a week.
To my amazement the variety El Santa has an excellent taste. These are growing outside on the allotment.
My favourite variety is Aromel. A whole raised bed is devoted to it because it is ready to pick in the first week in July and there will be another crop in the autumn.
Pigeons will eat the fruits long before they ripen, but a fine net supported on short stakes will keep them out.
It is essential to keep the plants well-watered to get large and fleshy berries.
Strawberries planted in a strawberry tower, which looks like an upturned dustbin with little cups to hold the plants, have died in places. This is because I forgot to water them!
When picking the fruits, turn them around to ensure they are red all round. Take a bucket with you for the weeds and it won’t be long before you are putting the fruits into the bucket.
Now look ahead...
Long, thin stems – runners – will appear which will produce a baby plant. Take a 12in-long piece of thick wreath wire, cut it in half and bend it round to form the shape of a hairpin. Fill three-inch diameter pots with potting compost, not garden soil, burying the pot half-way into the soil to stop it falling over.
Peg the tip into the little pot. This will provide plants for next year. Keep the pots watered as they dry out quickly.
Choose runners from plants which are producing well and check the foliage on those you are choosing looks healthy.
If the plants are producing poor leaves, yellow streaks and lots of red leaves, they are deteriorating and they could be signs of strawberry virus or red spider mite.
The secret of success?
Plant new plants in early autumn in a new area and remember the first year the fruits are the largest, the second year you have the best crop, the third year the crop deteriorates.
If you only have a tiny garden, buy strawberry plants in pots and plant them in a hanging basket.
The plants you buy will be in flower and in a few weeks you will be picking strawberries.
Have you lovingly tended a prized plot? Our popular annual Bloomin’ Marvellous gardening competition is open for entries – and we’d love to see pictures of your garden.
All you have to do is take a good quality photo and send it to us.
Remember, our judge Brian Kidd bases his decisions for the 10 finalists solely on your photos, so make sure you capture your garden’s best features.
First prize is £100 in vouchers from Garsons garden centre, Titchfield, with second prize £50 and third £25.
Post your photos to Bloomin’ Marvellous, c/o Ellie Pilmoor, The News, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Western Road, PO6 3EN or e-mail them to [email protected].
Include your full name, daytime telephone number and address with the photographs or e-mails you send to us. Unfortunately we’re not able to return posted prints.