Get strawberry beds ready for the fruiting season now and you’ll keep them happy and healthy with fruits at the peak of perfection until they ripen and you can enjoy them to the full.
Start by giving your strawberry bed the once-over, removing any weeds and large stones and watering your plants if the weather is dry. A handful of granular general-purpose fertiliser scattered among the plants helps keep them productive too.
Next, check to see if any of the plants are producing runners – long, whippy stems, often with tufts of leaves on the end, which will eventually develop into new plants. Remove these by snipping them away close to the main plant as soon as you see them, as they’re diverting the plant’s energy away from making fruit and your harvest will be much lower if you leave them on.
Then get some straw and tuck a thick layer around and under the plants’ leaves. This helps keep the fruits clean, held off the ground away from soil and slugs; it also raises the temperature slightly, helping them to ripen.
Your last job is to protect the fruit from marauding birds, who enjoy a nice fat strawberry as much as you do. You’ll find easy-to-use netting cloches on sale here at the garden centre in Hemlington and Middlesbrough. Stretch the wire hoops across the row of strawberries, pushing the legs into the soil on either side. Weight down the netting at each side with bricks or pegs of wire so nothing can creep underneath.
Check your strawberry beds every couple of days and pick the berries as soon as the colour deepens to a luscious ripe redness. Eat them as fresh as possible with a little sugar and some cream, or turn them into jam, compote or ice cream: your summer starts here!