Over the past two days, I have been busy preparing our strawberry bed for next season. We currently have a wwoofer staying with us, a young girl called Felia from Germany, so she has been helping me with this task. Commercial growers apparently plant their crop in May so I’m a month early, but I figured this probably wouldn’t do any harm. Remember, the earlier that you plant strawberries, the earlier they will fruit and you will get more fruit overall. In saying that, I have planted strawberries as late as September and they will crop. It’s just that you will probably receive fruit later and less overall than had you planted them earlier in the year.
I started by taking off the hoops and bird netting from last year’s patch. I then dug each plant up, disregarding most of the parent plants, which are two years old. You’ll know which ones the parent plants are as they’ll be huge. They will have lots of leaves and most of them will be dead. Overall, they will have the appearance of being tired looking. Strawberries are meant to lose their vigour by their third year, so I concentrated mostly on saving the new runners which the parent plants produced at the end of the season. I didn’t even have to peg the runners into the dirt so they established roots. It seems that nature did most of the work for me! Many of these new runners were still attached to the parent plant, so I had to snip them off. I couldn’t believe it but in the end, I had three enormous buckets of strawberry plants, just containing runners and one year old plants (the runners produced by the two year old plants which I disregarded one season ago). These originally came from 12 strawberry plants I purchased from Kings Plant Barn two years ago. This is great value considering that I no longer have to purchase strawberry plants. I simply replant the runners and the one year old plants which were the runners from the previous season.
I decided to use the area where I planted potatoes and then melons last year to plant strawberries for next summer. It’s a good idea to rotate crops in order to discourage diseases in the soil. It’s too early to cover the strawberries with netting as there’s no fruit on the plants, but we placed hoops along the rows to guide us as to where to plant the strawberries, so they remained in nice rows and it makes it easy to cover them when the time comes. In terms of soil preparation, we used 4 bags of compost, sheep pellets and some general garden fertiliser. I was going to use a tomato fertiliser, which is higher in potassium and aids fruiting, however it will be some time before flowering occurs. I therefore decided to use an all purpose fertiliser to help the plants establish strong roots and then I’ll sprinkle some tomato fertiliser around the plants in early spring to promote flowering. From around October onwards, I use a soluble fertiliser (Yates Thrive Strawberry Food) which I dilute with water. This promotes further flowering and fruiting.
Because I have so many plants, I have spaced them a little closer than I ordinarily would as I need to keep half of the space in that garden bed aside for the new roses which I am putting in during the winter. I hope that this doesn’t affect their productivity. Finally, I have been mulching the plants with pea straw to conserve moisture, keep weeds down and add nutrients to the soil. I have discussed the benefits of mulching previously in blog posts and my gardening newsletters. I like pea straw as it is an effective form of mulch which I have been using around my strawberries for the past five years. It also makes the patch look very neat and tidy.
Once fruit starts forming in October, I’ll cover the rows with netting to protect the fruit from being eaten by birds. Aside from this, the key to success is to water, water, water. Berries are composed largely of water so they need lots of it when they develop and the weather starts to warm up.
I will post again in summer with an update on progress with our strawberry patch. While I have been a little early in getting mine prepared this year, hopefully this post will encourage you to start thinking about putting some strawberries in over the coming months.