Saturday, 7 December 2013

Growing early strawberries

Without doubt it is the early strawberry varieties that are the most prized, many a gardener just can’t wait to for the first slowly ripening rosy fruits to savour!
Early varieties have always been in the minority – there are far mor maincrop, late and perpetual varieties to choose from – but over the years a good range has been developed. Below is a rundown of the best and some interesting older ones.
Cultivating strawberries
The plants should be set 15” apart with about 50” between rows. Make sure the soil is well cultivated and not prone to waterlogging. Top dress with bonemeal. The plants can be set at almost any time of the year; pot grown plants are the most popular choice and will provide a full harvest the following season, or if planted by early spring will even yield that summer. Bare rooted runners are a tradiitonal option and can be planted during the Auutmn and winter.
The plants will usually crop at their best for 3 years after which they should be discarded and the bed re-planted.
Strawberries can also be grown in tubs, planters, hanging baskets, troughs, grow bags and even a windowbox. For container growing I always recommend a good loam based potting compost. These plants should only be cropped in their containers for one season and then planted out into the garden. Such plants are easily forced into earlier ripening by being brought into a greenhouse or conservatory. Even if it is unheated this can still bring the cropping period by some two weeks or more.
The first variety to ripen, often shows ripen fruits in late May outdoors without protection. With cxover can be ripened even earlier. Berries are small, dark and flavoursome but not over-sweet. Plants are compact; the blossom is early and sometimes needs frost protection.
The most popular early for gardeners and commercial growers and for some time the heaviest cropping of the class. Excellent flavour, fruits ripen to a dark red. Plants show good disease resistance and productivity. First early.
Cambridge Prizewinner
An old sort that is difficult to obtain. Plants do not show much vigour nowadays and crops can be light but the flavour is very superior. Still worth growing if treated kindly.
A second early that is favoured by those who ‘now’ Capable of very heavy crops and blessed with a good flavour. Moderate to large vermillion red berries, upright and fairly vigorous plants. Foliage sometimes gets powdery mildew during wet summers or if planted at high density but otherwise disease resistance is good.
A variety of some years standing that remains popular for growing under cloches or glass, but also produces well in the garden. Plants are upright and show good vigour. Pale orange red fruits, nicely flavoured and sweet.
Second early. An old continental variety with husky dark leaved vigour and often wedge shaped berries which are a shiny pleasing dark red. Texture fairly firm but well flavoured and suits all purposes. Worth growing.
Cambridge Vigour
Second early. Valued for pot, cloche and underglass work but wins in the garden too especially as it is suitable for a frost pocket and will still yield well. Plants are compact and the flavour very, very good. Yield does not compare to modern varieties.
After cropping
It is good practice to remove all foliage after fruiting has finished, shear it off nearly to the crown of the plant. This will clear up any diseases and pests. New growth appears in a week or two. You can top dress with fertilizer again at this point to renew vigour for next year. Water the plants during dry spells or drought during and after fruiting.
Picture 1 - Elvira

Picture 2 - Rosie

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