BRIAN KIDD: Strawberry fields forever – but renew them every three years

Now is the time to get to grips with your strawberry bed.
Now is the time to get to grips with your strawberry bed.
It's time to plant out your leeks.

GARDENING: Jobs for the week with Brian Kidd  

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My word, the garden at home is really wet. As you know, I don't get on the ground if the weather is unsuitable but it's wonderful to enjoy the perfume of the Chinese witch hazel, daphne Jacqueline Postill and the mahonia japonica. I am so pleased we have many lovely evergreens with perfumed flowers.

I admire the allotmenteers who have completed their winter digging. I haven’t had time to do much but try to get winter digging and manuring for potatoes, peas and beans done before Christmas. The weather upset this plan, but never mind, it’s better to wait rather than dig in appalling conditions.

One thing I must do, however, is sort the strawberry bed. This was replanted this time last year and the crop was excellent. The largest fruits are formed on the newest plants and the best crop is on plants grown for two years. Left any longer, the fruits will be much smaller and there will be fewer, so it pays to renew the bed with plants every third year.

Runners from your own plants are suitable provided the parent plants have produced good quality fruits. Luckily, I pegged down runners into three-inch diameter pots sunk into the ground and with a bit of luck will extricate the pots from the mass of old foliage and replant in another area when weather and time allow.

As you may remember, I grow strawberries in pots in my allotment greenhouse. I intend to use 30 of the runners to produce strawberries in the greenhouse and these will start fruiting in May, about three weeks before outdoor ones are ready to pick.

The plants in the little pots need to be cleaned up, all the foliage and dead stems removed and soil washed off the roots. This will ensure any root aphids are destroyed. The plants are then potted into five-inch diameter pots in John Innes No3 compost and kept outdoors until January 21, after which they are put into the greenhouse without any heat.

The reason for keeping them outside is to ensure they are 'wintered'. Hormones responsible for fruits become active if the plants are left long enough outdoors. After three or four weeks new foliage will appear and in late March the flowers will start to bloom.

Each flower has to be hand-pollinated with an artist's brush; just a tickle in the centre of each flower and brush from bloom to bloom and the fruits will form. Hand pollination is essential because there are no bees in the greenhouse.

Now, back to the strawberry bed. Cut off all old leaves and stems, remove weeds and fork through the rows.

At the end of February feed the plants with blood, fish and bone, four ounces per yard run. Work this into the soil with an onion hoe or hand fork and watch them grow!

Have straw ready to put between rows when flowers appear, not before because if the weather is cold, the straw stops the soil warming. If you love strawberries you can produce early fruits if you cover a row with cloches.

Next Saturday is Aunty Grace's birthday and it will be light at 5pm...

THIS WEEK'S TOP TIP

Don't let the rest of the world make you feel fed up, look forward all the time. Snowdrops are popping up and next Saturday it will be light at 5pm. Keep the faith and hang on – spring is on the way.