Monday, 26 March 2007


I’ve been tidying up strawberry plants this week. I mainly have the alpine type, not because they are tastier than the larger types, but they seem to go further when my two children dive into them in summer. Every day there are fresh ones to nibble on, they tend to have the same amount of seed on them as the larger type which makes them a little crunchy but nobody has complained yet.
Working on the strawberry bed reminded me of the time when I was a teenager at the height of summer and my only form of transport was a pedal bike.

Every summer a few friends and myself would hop on our machines and travel the fifteen miles to the nearest strawberry farm. The farm had a “Pick your own punnet” system, so when we arrived the first thing to do was to pick up a small plastic tray from the gate and proceed to the acres of strawberry plants all laid out in straight rows for easy picking. This pick your own system obviously works as a money making venture, as most people that arrived collected what they needed and jumped into their cars and headed for the nearest shop for a container of double cream and probably headed home to have the strawberries for their tea. I realized later that these people probably made the wise decision of taking the fruit home and washing all the chemicals off them first.

We were having none of that. After traveling the fifteen miles to get there we were always intent on making a day of things. So for a start we all carried our own containers of warm cream stuffed into our bike bags.

Strawberries at the time were only really available in the summer season, the fruit from the continent never appeared in the supermarkets, so when they were in season you had to get stuck in and that is exactly what we did. An eight-hour shift of cramming strawberries into our mouths began. Of course there was the odd break to moan about the aching in the stomachs or to have the competition for the largest red patches on the knees of our trousers, I remember I used to wear trousers that were off white to get the most dramatic strawberry stains you ever saw! Pretty sad eh?

Anyway after the marathon eating session we had the brave faced cheek to walk up to the woman who was sitting behind a table at the gate ready to weigh our pickings, and handing over half a punnet with about six strawberries in them. The woman weighed them and with a frown on her face accepted the few pennies they cost. We found the fifteen-mile bike ride back home a very painful experience, with a good number of stops behind the hedgerows along the way for all of us.
By the time we got back home with the punnet, the strawberries had been baked to a pulp in the sun. My friends and I decided on the way home that we were never going to eat another strawberry ever again. I would proudly hand the punnet pulp over to my mother, declaring that I brought them back as a special present from my travels, and that she could eat them all for herself, (I was such a considerate child), I wonder what she thought happened to my trousers?

Strawberry plants are usually quite short lived, usually around five years. The plants weaken and are more prone to disease. It would be a good idea to obtain plants that have been checked by the Ministry of Inspectors to make sure that they are free of pests and disease. Sometimes if you accept runners from a friend’s garden you may not get very good quality plants.
Strawberries can be grown in tiny spaces, on the patio, windowsill or even a balcony. They grow well in places with good drainage and plenty of moisture. The main thing to do if you are putting the plants outside is to make sure you have prepared the ground thoroughly, removing perennial weeds and feeding the ground well with some well-rotted manure and a bit of bonemeal. They could be planted through polythene or straw put underneath the plants to stop the fruit from rotting. Look out for greenfly and slugs.

There can be a very long season for strawberries as there are early, main season and late season types. Here are a few of the more popular choices:

Early: Emily. Vigorous and resistant to leaf diseases.

Main season: There is a new variety on the market called Eros, which is proving to be very popular and has very good disease resistance.

Late: Symphony. This plant is tolerant of the dreaded vine weevil, and can get powdery mildew, but the yield makes up for its shortcomings.

There is another plant on the market that is classed as an “everbearing” type, called Calypso; they fruit from June to September.


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