Friday, 6 April 2012

Strawberries jailed for the forseeable future

pic from  Irish cooking blog
Seamus loves strawberries, I'm more of a raspberry person myself. In the interests of peace in the garden two long strawberry beds were put in about 5 years ago, and to be honest they have been very productive despite very little help from either of us.It's nice on a Summer morning to stroll down the garden and pick some strawberries for breakfast. Even nicer a few Summers ago when May and early June were so fine that I was giving away punnet after punnet to friends and family all of whom thought they had never tasted anything sweeter or more delicious. And they really are. There is no supermarket strawberry, no matter how local or freshly picked to rival your own.

But when it came to the maintenance of the beds there was a bit of a breakdown in communication. I thought they were Seamus's beds, he obviously thought they were mine! In the end although there was never a problem getting willing strawberry pickers, (visitors volunteered all the time for the job) there was no willing weeders. (Two nosey neighbours dropping off church collection forms once asked if they could pick a few-I'm eternally grateful for the new gate, it keeps all these fecking do gooders out!). And so it started to go a bit feral, sliding further each year into jungle-ness.

I'm not exaggerating! a right old mess
The briar's were introduced by the birds and in a true twist of fate proved as effective as a good net in keeping most birds out, particularly blackbirds. We did get the odd scratch when we were out picking but it was worth it, the strawberries underneath were unmolested and perfect. So for a few years a blind eye was turned to the state of the bed while the harvest continued to be good.I think we both said several times "that strawberry bed is gone to s&?%" but nobody did anything, it was way down on the list of priorities.

raking the new strawberry bed-dry and cloddy
Eventually though no matter how relaxed you are these things do start to bother you.

Planted 1.5 feet apart with chives as companions, the original spacings have been overrun with runners, the chive plants are enormous and in need of division and worse! the briar's have begun to colonise the bed. Did I mention that the chive flowers are so popular with bees and moths that they have self seeded everywhere? And there are strawberry runners escaping onto the paths? It's a right bloody mess.But more importantly I cant take it any longer!!!

So the old strawberry plants are getting evicted from the beds and a new one is ready for Cambridge favourite plants that I got last spring from Englishes in Wexford.Last night we did phase one. I call this the strawberry jail-they will not escape!

The new bed is one of the shorter ones at the end of the garden that had mixed green manures sown in it over winter and was dug in some weeks ago. It was so dry and hard from the weeks of drought that we had to water it before covering it in bio-degradable garden fabric. I had an old roll in the shed but you could just as easily use a cardboard or newspaper mulch.

the new bed with biodegradable stuff in place
We rolled it out and tucked in into the corners with a spade. Eileen is doing the same job in West Limerick at the moment. We were working on it a few weeks ago. The only difference is that she is using raised drills to grow the strawberries on.

Technically strawberries are not meant to be grown on the flat. I famously found this out at my IOFGA (Irish Organic Farmers And Growers) interview while I was finishing exams in Dromcollogher. We has to pass an interview with David Storey, an intimidating man with a reputation as the most sarcastic man in Ireland. He used to love torturing vegetarians by asking them if they thought lettuces felt pain when they were cut!

I was doing a strawberry project for my Finals and he asked me about it. When he found out how I was growing them in the tunnel he snorted and said (voice dripping with sarcasm) "EVERYONE knows you grow strawberries on drills NOT on the flat". In other words he was telling me I was an idiot.

Not keen on taking things lying down when he asked me later in the interview if I read the magazine IOFGA produce called Organic Matters and I told him "no because its a load of shite"-that didn't go down well!! He was very proud of it. He threw it across the table and barked "read it! I threw it back and said "no thanks"! Still I got my certification so who knows maybe even sarcastic cranky people like those who bite back. He passed away a few years later but Organic Matters is still going. You can check it out here organic matters.

strawberries from my tunnel project many moons ago

What I have learned about strawberries over the years for what it's worth;
  • The roots need moisture but the tops need heat, light and dry conditions. So that's the reason why those nice terracotta containers for strawberries are such a disaster.
  • Slugs and birds are the biggest predators but rain is the worst of all because it literally rots the fruit.A plastic cloche outdoors is essential in wet summers if you hope to get fruit. Likewise a net to keep off birds.
  • Too much rich manure will give you a crop of leaves, not flowers so don't be over generous when you are putting them in. 
  • If you can grow chives or some member of the onion family with them or close by it really does help to keep off greenfly which can be a big problem. 
  • Finally airflow is essential to keep off moulds so do not plant them too close together, they need that 1.5 ft apart spacing in an open sunny site.

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