A quintessentially British fruit, strawberries are a summer staple. From adorning meringues at summer garden parties to being enjoyed at picnics in the park, at this time of year those little red fruits make a big impact. This June they’ll really be taking centre stage too, with the Queen’s Jubilee weekend celebrations seeing many traditional afternoon teas consumed, and then at the end of the month there’s Wimbledon, too. In fact, a huge 166,000 strawberries are eaten during the tennis tournament.
So, with the strawberry season in full swing, perhaps it’s time to consider growing your own. Not sure where to start? Read on to find out how to get the best out of your berries…
Why should I grow strawberries?
There are several benefits to growing your own strawberries. For starters, they’re relatively easy to grow, so you’ll have the satisfaction of enjoying your own homegrown fruit with minimal effort. Strawberries can get pretty pricey when you’re buying them by the punnet too, but picking them right from the garden means you’ll not only be saving on the cost of the fruit, but the cost of driving to the shops too - especially important in the current climate!
If you need something to keep the whole family busy, then growing strawberries can become a fun project during the summer months, with the added benefit of being able to eat the produce at the end.
When’s the best time to plant strawberries?
There are several times in the year when strawberries can be planted. Late spring when the weather is starting to warm up is a good time to plant, as are late summer or early autumn. If you're planting in spring you may see a smaller crop for your first year, but don't be disheartened - typically the best years for strawberry plants are years two, three and four.
Strawberries are frost hardy perennials, so once established they'll withstand the colder winter weather.
Where do strawberry plants grow best?
Depending on the type of strawberry you're growing depends on the environment it needs to thrive.
If you're growing alpine strawberries from seed then you'll want to plant in pots or trays, using a quality compost. Strawberries do very well in containers and can be planted in them from runners or plants, and they can also be grown in pots, or just planted directly into the ground. If you’re planting them into the ground, consider a raised bed, and also invest in some material to protect your fruits from hungry birds and squirrels.
Strawberries will grow in most conditions, but most do best in full sun, except for alpine strawberries which grow best in the shade.
What kind of care do strawberries need?
The good news is that strawberries are pretty low maintenance. You’ll need to keep an eye out for viruses though, as strawberries are prone to them. They're caused by things like aphids, and some can be easily treatable if you catch them early. Soil splashes can cause the fruit to go mouldy, so using a mulch can help to stop this happening.
Keep your strawberry plants well watered in hot weather and throughout the growing season, but ensure the soil is free draining to avoid mould.
When should I pick my strawberries?
Depending on the variety of strawberry you're growing will depend on when the fruit will be ready to harvest, but in general, strawberry season is from early summer to early autumn. The fruit doesn't continue to ripen once picked, so make sure it's definitely ready - sour strawberries aren't to everyone's taste!
You can tell they're ready to be picked once the fruit is a deep bright red all over (no pale patches). Ideally pick them during the warmest part of the day - this is when they'll taste the best.
What can I do with my strawberries?
There are few things nicer than a freshly picked homegrown strawberry, so you could just tuck into your produce. However, if you're looking for another way to enjoy your efforts, perhaps indulge in a little mixology and whip up a strawberry cocktail - perfect for a jubilee celebration, or an accompaniment to a tennis tournament, perhaps?
There are lots of popular strawberry based drinks such as daiquiris or margaritas, but we're particularly fond of this simple gin fizz recipe, which combines delicious fresh strawberries with gin and sparkling wine.
Strawberry Gin Fizz
Ingredients: (makes one jug)
400g strawberries, sliced
A handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
30ml simple syrup
1 bottle of sparkling wine such as prosecco, cava or perhaps an English sparkling rosé
A handful of ice cubes
Put the strawberries, mint and half of your sugar syrup mixture into a jug, and muddle the fruit until lightly crushed
Pour in your gin, fizz and ice cubes and stir together, adding the rest of the simple syrup if you think you need the extra sweetness
Pour into a fizz glass and garnish with mint leaves and sliced strawberries
Enjoy! (And maybe share if you're feeling generous…)