Gardening: From the cold earth come sweet berries

By Rachel Vogan


When it comes to results versus effort strawberries are top of the class. Only a small amount of effort is required to produce handfuls of fresh, sweet, delicious berries.

Strawberries, like most other berries, are sun-lovers so need to be planted in a sunny position. No sun equals no flavour.

Winter may seem like the least inviting time to be in the garden but research shows that strawberry plants that get enough hours in the ground during cold winter temperatures before flowering will produce a higher number of berries over the season. Strawberries need winter chills as well as summer heat and sun.

To get the best berries, start with the right ingredients. Select healthy strawberry plants from the garden centre. Alternatively, you can use old strawberry runners already in your garden, but be aware that they probably won't produce the bumper crop new plants would. Berries from older runners tend to have less vigour and a diminished flavour.

NEW PATCH

Find a position that gets sun all day, at least six hours. Dig over the soil carefully to a depth of about 20cm. Next, blend in well-rotted compost or sheep pellets and, where possible, allow the soil to settle for a week or so. This enables the worms and nutrients to meld into it. Next, add a layer of strawberry mix and work into the soil slightly. Plant berries about 20cm apart in rows, water well. Allow five plants per person to have enough berries for everyone to enjoy.

To keep berries clean, keep the area weed-free and to protect against frost, surround the strawberry plants with straw. An easy, no-mess option is to use strawberry straw. This neat, new product is a bale of compressed barley straw. It comes in a sealed packet, meaning no mess and ease of use. If you have bales of straw handy you could add a layer of this around the crop. Replenish straw every year.

EXISTING PATCH

Use scissors to remove and cut out all old leaves, dig out sick-looking plants and remove excess runners. Next, fertilise with strawberry food, about a handful around each plant. Finish by adding a layer of strawberry straw around the berries to keep the soil weed-free and the berries clean as they ripen.

POTS, BASKETS AND CONTAINERS

Fill pots, baskets and containers with Tui Strawberry Mix ready for planting. Strawberries in containers can be planted a lot closer together than in the garden because there is generally better air movement. Allow about a hand's space between plants.

TOP 5 STRAWBERRY GROWING TIPS

Water: aim to keep the soil moist but not wet, try to water only the soil around the plants, where possible, this will help limit the fruit becoming soggy and rotting before it ripens. In areas with dry soils add Saturaid to strawberry beds to help the soil retain moisture to produce juicy tasty berries.

Bugs: watch out for whitefly and aphids. As soon as they appear either blast them off with the hose or spray with something natural like Tui Eco-Pest.

Cover beds: with netting covers or screens to protect berries from birds.

Remove: any runners that begin to appear from the plant in the first year, this will encourage the berry to produce more flowers, which will equate to more fruit.

Mulch: to suppress weed growth, conserve moisture in hot weather, and protect against frost.

- Hamilton News

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