By Penny Ossowski
The ideal fruit that we can all grow a home, a fruit that can be grown in any type of home - in a small pot, large pot, a hanging pot, a polystyrene box, a garden bed or even in a bag of potting mix. Home grow strawberries are simple to grow, have more flavour than store bought ones and have no dangerous chemicals on them or in the soil where they are grown. The Strawberry that we commonly grow today is referred to as the Garden Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) which was a result of Europeans crossing the flavoursome North American (Fragaria virginiana) strawberry with the large Chilean (Fragaria chiloensis) strawberry in the 18th century. Previous to this Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vasca) which is also known as the Wild Strawberry and Alpine Strawberry was the only one grown in Europe. This still grows wild in the northern hemisphere.
Eden Seeds has strawberry seeds available online. Buy strawberry seeds for Australia wide distribution online.
The strawberry is a member of the Rosaceae family which includes roses, apples, pears, plums, raspberries, blackberries, almonds and many more. To be precise a
strawberry is not really a fruit or even a berry but is the bases of sepals, petals and stamens which are fused together and hold the ovaries and thus the seeds are on the outside, but is sweet like a fruit, looks like a fruit and definitely tastes like a fruit, so for ease of reference we call it a fruit. Did you know the average strawberry has 200 seeds?
To select your growing location bear in mind that strawberries need to be grown in full sun and their soil kept moist but well drained. It you are going to grow them in a garden bed, about a month before planting, prepare it by digging. We remove weeds and then adding plenty of compost, lots of broken down animal manure and some blood and bone. To help with drainage mound the garden up at least 15cm above ground level. Mulch the garden bed until you are ready to plant. if your garden bed is not suitable or you live in a unit or are renting, a self watering hanging pot could suit you or a polystyrene box or a terracotta strawberry pot or just buy a bag of good quality potting mix into which you can plant directly. The soils mix in these containers should have added compost, well rotted manure and some blood and bone. If you are going to plant in a bag of potting mix set up some sort of flat surface off the ground to lay it on, then cut 4 to 6 holes into which the strawberries can be planted.
Strawberries prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH of 5.25 to 6.0. Strawberries should not be planted where tomatoes of potatoes have grown as they all suffer from Verticillium Wilt disease, which is transferred via the soil and can affect strawberries.
The best time to plant strawberries in subtropical areas is from March to April but if you live in a cooler area late winter to early spring is better. In late summer, strawberry plants send out runners and most people grow their strawberries from these. If you need some check with a friend or neighbour who has strawberries and they will be sure to share some with you. When you plant them make sure the crown (top of the roots) of the little strawberry plant on the runner is at soil level not below or they will rot. Space them about 30cm apart. After planting water them well, usually water them with a weak fish emulsion solution. Many nurseries have potted strawberries for sale in late summer and early autumn, Strawberry crowns (the leafless central base of the plant) can be bought in winter from some nurseries, produce stores or similar. After planting and watering in, cover the soil around them with a layer of mulch, this will keep the soil moist, protect their roots which are close to the surface and later keep their fruits off the ground. Commercial growers cover their soil with black plastic, avoid using this as it can overheat the soil, damaging roots and micro organisms needed for a healthy ecosystem. Strawberries can be grown from seeds but viable ones are hard to come by. Some varieties of strawberries such as the 'Alpine' strawberry do not produce runners and are clumping plants which can be divided or grown from seed. If you do grow from seed plant them in spring. Strawberries like to be grown with marigolds, bush bean, lettuce, onion, pea and spinach but dislike being near cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, thyme, rosemary and mint.
Some varieties suitable for Queensland include 'Tioga' which bears well from summer through till late autumn, 'Earnsweet' and 'Redlands Crimson' will begin to produce crops in June or July. Redlands Crimson is the most important commercial variety, cropping from autumn through to spring.
Once established spray or water every couple of weeks with liquid fertiliser such as fish emulsion, seaweed fertiliser or worm pee. This will strengthen the plants, help them resist disease and encourage fruit production. Month by month care and maintenance information is in the Queensland Planting Guide. Strawberries need water and plenty of food to produce their luscious fruits. Well-fed strawberries produce more berries. But don't just give them a high nitrogen fertiliser or you'll get lots of green leaves and very little fruit.
Seeing as they bear such delicious fruits it is no wonder that they are attacked by many pests. Some of the main offenders are possums, birds, slugs, snails and even our pet dogs. It is a good idea to cover them with netting to deter the possums, birds and dogs and to lay some traps for the snails and slugs. When covering with a net set up a frame to hold the net well above the plants. Gold Rush Lettuce seeds. Red spider mite can also infect strawberries particularly when they get a bit stressed treat with Soap Spray (Queensland Planting Guide). Disease wise they are susceptible to powdery mildew, treat with Milk Spray (Queensland Planting Guide) and black spot treat with Bi-carb Spray (Queensland Planting Guide) or Seaweed Spray and botrytis (grey mould), can affect strawberry fruit and leaves, remove brown or soggy fruit and damaged leaves encourage plenty of air circulation and avoid overhead watering which will reduce fungal disease, "leaky pipe" irrigation is best.
When it's time to harvest your strawberries select those with a fresh shiny look and bright red colour, don't pick them green as they will not ripen after they are picked. Don't wash them until you are ready to use them, store them preferably in a single layer on a paper towel in a loosely covered container in the fridge. Enjoy eating your strawberries raw or use them to make jam, wine, muffins, syrup, smoothies, cakes, muffins, pies, jelly, toppings and in many other ways. Mix crushed strawberries with plain ice cream or yogurt for a delightful treat.
Strawberries can be frozen to use later in jams and deserts. To freeze strawberries wash and dry them, remove the stems, and arrange them into a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer until the berries are solidly frozen. Then pack them into a sealed bag and keep them frozen until ready to use. Keep your strawberry patch clean. Continually remove dead or damaged leaves or fruit. If you don't want runners from your strawberries this year remove them as this will let them put their energy into improving fruit production. After fruiting has finished, tidy up the bushes by giving them a hard prune down to 10cm. Strawberry plants have a relatively short lifespan (3 to 5 years). To achieve maximum production and lessen the chance of disease it is best to establish a new strawberry bed every few years and not re-plant in the same area for 3 to 5 years. Some people have allergic reactions to strawberries including dermatitis and mouth ulcers, but strawberries provide us with many necessary vitamins and minerals. Strawberries have more vitamin C than an orange and are high in folate. They are high in antiviral and anticancer agents and are a great benefit to the cardiovascular system. For many centuries strawberries have been used to treat colitis, jaundice, ulcers, gallstones, gastritis and other diseases because of their antibiotic qualities. Strawberry leaves can be used to make tea for helping with menstruation problems and constipation.
The common garden strawberry is also widely used in cosmetics to get rid of pimples and spots from the face. Crushed strawberries can be mixed with egg yolk (1 teaspoon of juice to 1 egg yolk) and put on the face or just make a mix of crushed strawberries and spread it over your face and leave it on for 15 minutes or so, to give your skin that natural glow, reduce wrinkles, freckles other blemishes. If you want to get your children involved in gardening strawberries are the ideal plant to get them started. They can be grown in their allocated section of the garden, in their own pot or in a polystyrene box. They will really enjoy picking and eating their own strawberries and if they get enough sharing them with the family