Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hills of Strawberries


Here in southwest France, spring is going at a breakneck speed.  In fact, it is rapidly morphing into early summer as our summertime lasts about six months.

Rhubarb waking up

Bearded Irises going at full throttle

The strawberry plants are beginning to flower which means I will need to fertilise the two beds.

Two-year-old plant forming tiny yellow berries in the flower's centre

However, I have some transplants to do first.  Placing the crown just at the right level is important because if planted too high, roots will dry out, if too low, the crown will rot.  Hilling accomplishes the correct placement very nicely.  Start by loosening the soil with a spade or a fork to a depth of five to six inches depending on the length of the roots.  Very long roots can be trimmed.


Using a trowel, dig a circular trench, depositing most of the soil outside the trench and some on the centre mound which needs to be an inch or two above level ground.  Firm the mound lightly.

Voilà!  A little moat.

Spread gently the roots over the mound, tucking any extra length around the trench.

Crown is the light-green, fleshy, triangular part just above the roots' top

Fill in the circular trench with soil, firming the planting by cupping your hands around the crown while pressing down.  Plant should not wobble, that is, the crown should be securely supported by soil while not being completely buried.  The carrot seed packet shows the slant of the hill, otherwise not very visible in the below photo.  To accommodate hilling in my block beds, I space the strawberries farther apart (about 15 inches) than the usual denser planting.


On to fertilising which consists of sprinkling the recommended amount around each plant about a few inches away from the crown, and then lightly scraping the granules into the soil, being careful that the shallow roots will not be disturbed.  Water well.

Using the cultivator's side instead of the prongs avoids damaging roots

Though a basic 10-10-10 will suffice, one with an NPK number where phosphorus and potassium (second and third numbers) are higher than the first number (nitrogen) would be better as phosphorus and potassium are needed for root and fruit development.  The first application is done as soon as the flowers appear and the second one is after harvest.  As soon as the season's first mowing of grass clippings dry, I will mulch the strawberry beds to keep the berries off the soil and to conserve moisture.

This natural 5-6-8 fertiliser can be used also for raspberries and currants

Strawberry plants are productive for about three years.  However, there will be no berries the first year if you follow the recommendation by the experts and pinch all flowers off to promote strong root development, and even if you don't pinch them off, there will be just a light harvest.  It is the second year where the biggest production occurs.  Third year is heavier than the first, but not as generous as the second.

Second-year strawberry bed followed by a first-year planting

There are efforts to produce an annual strawberry which would simplify their care.  But until then, if you want a satisfying crop of berries (they are the Calm One's favourite fruit), you need to plan each spring for there to be plants entering their second year.  Happily, once you buy your initial plants--usually shipped as bare roots and planted either in the fall or early spring--they will produce enough runners which can be used for propagation.  Some gardeners sell their extra baby plants for a bit of pocket money.

Strawberries, along with tomatoes, are one of the commercial crops containing the highest level of pesticides because of their susceptibility to disease. In home gardens, however, meticulous rotation works wonders in keeping them mostly disease and pesticide free.  Also, the taste of home-grown strawberries and tomatoes are incomparable as so many delicious varieties are available which can not be found in markets.