July Grow your own

Strawberries can be grown in a wide range of soils, from light sand to heavy clay. However, waterlogging will cause the fruits to become diseased and the plant to rot. The ideal soil is well-drained and rich in humus. They prefer to be planted in full sun, out of the wind.

Strawberry plants can be planted outdoors from late June until September. If planted later, the flowers should be removed in the first year so the energy is used to develop a healthy plant in year two.

Prepare the soil prior to planting by digging over the soil, removing any perennial weeds by hand and adding manure to the ground. Place the strawberry plants every 35cm (13 in) within the row, with the rows being 75cm (30 in) apart, and plant with the crown at soil level. Water in well. To prevent slugs, put down pellets or place grit or broken egg shells under each plant.

Strawberry plants can produce fruit for five or six years. However, after the first two years the yields will be reduced dramatically and a build-up of pests and diseases can occur. Strawberry beds are usually kept for two or three years before they're cleared and planted on new ground.

Growing tips

Regularly hoe between the rows and individual plants. You might also want to place a net over the strawberries to stop birds and squirrels from eating the fruit. From late May, place straw in the rows and under the fruit trusses to suppress weeds and prevent the fruit lying on the ground. Barley straw is the best option, as it's softer and more pliable. If you can't get straw, use polythene sheeting.

It's possible to extend the growing season by placing early strawberry varieties under cloches or polythene covers in late March. Grown in this way, the plants should produce fruit two to three weeks earlier than normal.

How to grow in a basket
Growing strawberries in a hanging basket ensures they're kept out of the way of slugs. Plant five to six plants in a basket in spring, and water every day during the growing season. From flowering until harvest, feed the plants every ten days with a product that's high in potassium, such as a tomato feed. The same strawberry plants should continue to produce fruit the following year, but the crops will be better if the plants are renewed.

How to harvest

It's important to pick any fruit as soon as it's ripe to prevent it rotting on the plant. Check the plants every other day during the ripening period. The fruit is ready when it has turned red, although different varieties have different shades. It's best to harvest the fruit in dry weather. Pick gently to avoid bruising and make sure the green stalk (calyx) remains with the fruit.

Aftercare
After harvesting, remove the straw or matting that has been protecting fruit from the ground. Compost straw and debris, or clean and store matting for next year.
Cut off old leaves with hand shears and remove, leaving the crown and new leaves untouched. This allows sunlight into the centre of the plant, ensuring a better crop next year.
Feed and water well.
Leave nets off to allow birds to pick off any pests.

Propagation
It's simple to make more strawberry plants. The plants send out runners over the surface of the soil during the growing season. These can be pegged down, usually in June or July, while attached to the mother plant. Eventually, they will form a separate plant.

Don't allow more than five runners to develop from each plant. In August, when the runner plants are well established, cut them from the parent and transplant immediately.

Material courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk

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