Strawberry fields forever (or for a few months anyway)

When I first started growing things a few years ago, I read every gardening and veg growing book I could get my hands on.  After a while I realised that as useful as this could be, there was no substitute for getting out there and giving it a go, learning from trial and error.  Seeds are cheap, and everyone’s soil, climate and situation is different.

But a weekend visit to a community allotment in Cousland near Dalkeith reminded me that watching and learning from others is even more useful.  I was amazed how well some crops were doing there, and how little storm damage there seemed to be, although I suppose it doesn’t help that my plot is south west facing and receives the brunt of the salty winds coming over the Forth.

Getting back to my own tangled and overgrown plot was a little depressing, but it did spur me into getting out there and doing something about it, and in the end it only took a few hours.  The first plot to tackle was the strawberry bed.  Despite the damage to the polytunnels this is apparently an excellent year for strawberries.  There’s nothing comparable to the flavour of a newly ripened strawberry picked from the plant first thing in the morning, so much so that I can always forgive the birds for nibbling most of mine every year.

Strawberries do need a bit of work, in soil preparation and protection, but whereas with carrots I have my doubts, with  trawberries, it’s worth it.   I’ve certainly got plenty of flowers and green fruits, though much smaller than the ones I saw in Cousland.  But on closer inspection I saw that the weeds had taken over, and many of the plants had sent out runners that were hidden among the weeds.  After a thorough clear out the bed was looking tidier, but I realised that essentially
they are in the wrong soil, compacted and clay, not free draining as strawberries like best, which explains my smaller crop.  I bought this soil from Rowlawn a few years ago, and it professed to be the best quality topsoil money could buy, which it should have been at the price.  Ultimately it isn’t a substitute for my own compost, and the plants
growing in this are doing much better.  I’ll move the bed next year to where the potatoes are growing now, which will hopefully help.  In the meantime, I spent the weekend building a protective cage to go around them, to stop the birds from feasting on what crop I have left.

In doing so I discovered yet another complete waste of money.  I bought two packets of plastic connectors for bamboo canes, a little like build-a-balls but not quite the same, but
discovered that even once I had got my husband to squeeze the canes into them (I couldn’t manage it myself) I still had to secure the corners with twine.  In other words, I could have just used twine in the first place.

The next job is to find some straw to lie underneath the plants, on top of the soil, to suppress weeds but more importantly to stop the new fruits from rotting by lying on wet soil.  I’ve asked a local strawberry farmer if she has any going spare.  In the meantime, however, I’ve experimented with grass cuttings underneath the strawberries in the children’s bed.  I’ve read mixed reports about using grass cuttings, apparently they can heat up the soil too much, and obviously shouldn’t be used if you have applied weedkiller.  But I have kept the layer quite thin and it seems to be working alright so far, better than having the fruits rot in the soil or get eaten by slugs.

Another thing I am always confused about is replacing strawberry plants.  Apparently you have to replace them every three years, but given that they all grow in the same spot and I just peg down a few runners each year, I’ve lost track of which variety is which, never mind which plants are old and which ones are new.  I just pull a few out if they don’t seem to be producing any flowers, but perhaps there’s a better method.  It would be interesting to find out about what other gardeners do.  As I learned in Cousland, there’s no substitute for seeing things done in practice.  Maybe an East Fife plots and allotments open day would be a good idea? 

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post