It’s not always a case of ‘good things come to those who wait’. Given a gardener’s ingenuity and just a little help from Mother Nature, you could be tucking into strawberries far sooner than you might have anticipated.
Is there anything quite at luxurious as sinking your teeth into a soft, sun warmed home-grown strawberry? It’s intoxicatingly sweet aroma, luscious flesh and sensational taste make the strawberry a truly heavenly experience!
We all know that to enjoy a full season of this must-grow fruit you have to plant a mix of early, mid and late-season varieties. By doing this the wise gardener ensures there’s something to pick from June to as late as October. The commercial strawberry season, however, starts as soon as the first week of May, when the first punnets of British-grown strawbs hit the shelves. What’s their secret? How do they produce berries a whole month ahead of the rest of us?
Well, the secret lies in the right combination of vigorous early varieties, gentle heat and just a little sunshine.
THE BEST WAY TO DRIVE
Driving – that is encouraging a plant to create a crop before than it would naturally do so – is an age old technique that works a dream with strawberries. It is easy to do and, with a little fortune, you’ll be snafling your own fruits as soon as mid- May in the beginning of the Great British social season and time for the Chelsea Flower Show!
Loving strawberries in May begins with the appropriate varieties that are early. Typical early risers comprise heavy-cropping ‘Honeoye’, super-sweet and aromatic’ the easy and Gariguette’ -to-grow Dutch variety ‘Korona’, which makes enormous, rich red berries of flavour that is exceptional. There are, of course, many other suitable varieties to choose from, so it’s worth researching the cultivars that are early to find one that strikes the correct balance between haste and taste.
The simplest way to induce strawberries will be to cover outside -grown plants with hoop tunnels or cloches covered in polythene. This alone will shift the growing season forward by at least a fortnight, tricking the plants into thinking spring has arrived and its lime to get flowering and fruiting. Covers and cloches can be added from February, by which time the plants will have hid a good period of the chilling necessary to set them tip for the new growing season.
Alternatively, use rooted runners potted up from the previous year, or dig up plants and pot them up into containers of multi-purpose compost. One-year-old to two-year-old plants are the most vigorous and therefore give the best results when forcing.
Plants in pots can be brought under the cover of a greenhouse, which offers an even greater degree of protection than a cloche. In a cold greenhouse you can expect to cheat the season by as much as three weeks, while a healed greenhouse – or section of a greenhouse – will shift spring forward by a whole month, offering the tempting prospect of strawberries as early as May Day.
There’s some spring cleaning to be done before covering plants over or bringing them under cover – they want to look their bear for their big performance! Cut away any dead, diseased or otherwise mouldy-looking leaves then snip off any runners that have formed so that the plants can concentrate their energies on flowering and fruiting. Outside plants will benefit from a top dressing of organic mulch, garden-made compost or well-rotted manure is ideal.
HOW TO RAISE PLANTS FROM RUNNERS
STEP 1. Runners are a free and easy – – way to propagate now strawberry plants. Select stolon from healthy, disease-free plants. Restrict the number of runners, if you need to keep the plants that are first.
STEP 2. Each runner will be creating roots that are tiny at the plantlet. Simply pin these plantlets down on to earth or pots of compost.
STEP 3. Keep watered and enable the plantlet to root into the compost or ground. After four to six weeks it should have done so, at which stage the plantlet can be cut from the parent plant.
STEP 4. The plant should produce fruit and flowers during the next growing season.