Strawberries do take work but there is nothing like picking a sun-warmed, ripe strawberry full of flavour.
Where to plant
Plant in a warm, sunny position ideally in well drained soil, avoiding frost pockets. Make a raised bed on heavier ground (by creating a mound about a foot high) and then plant on the top.
Avoid frost pockets and cover any flowering strawberry plants with fleece if a frost is forecast in April or May because fruit will not set once the flowers have been blackened by frost.
Do not plant strawberries close to potatoes as both suffer from verticillium wilt.
How to plant
Choose a good, self-fertile variety from a reputable nursery or supplier. Plant in tens and (if you have room) go for an early and a late variety. Space plants 16 inches apart, water well and mulch with organic material - ideally well-rotted manure.
Barley straw is often used under fruit to suppress the weeds. It also mulches in moisture and keeps the fruit clean. However, in wet summers it can encourage grey mould (botrytis).
Browse the Saga Garden Centre for great offers on fruit and vegetables now.
Caring for strawberry plants
Hoe and tidy the bed in early spring and sprinkle over sulphate of potash (half an ounce per square yard).
Remove any faded, brown leaves in April and May.
Weed again in July and August, after picking has finished, removing any straw if you have used it under fruit trusses. Cut off all the leaves and fork between the rows. Take off all runners now, only potting them up if you need more plants. Water plants well if necessary.
Find out how to freeze strawberries
When to feed
Water strawberry plants on a high-potash strawberry feed once they flower.
One bed will produce three good crops and then another area should be chosen for a new bed if this is possible.The best crops occur on two and three-year old plants.
Pick fruit in the morning when the berries are coolest and handle them by the stalk, trying not to touch the fruit.
It's vital to stop two strawberry thieves - the slugs and birds. Birds can be deterred by netting between late April until August. I support my net on stout wooden posts about 60 cm (24 inches) high. Each is topped by a small terracotta pot and the pots stop the netting from slipping down and they look decorative. One or two stones anchor the netting down.
Slugs are best deterred by watering on nematodes (nemaslug) on a damp afternoon in the latter half of April and repeating the process six to eight weeks later. You should also hoe between the rows at every opportunity to bring any slug eggs to the surface. The birds will soon eat them.
Read our guide to controlling slugs and snails
Chef Raymond Blanc chose strawberry 'Marshmello' (from Marshalls Seeds/01480 443390) as the tastiest variety of all. 'Emily' is an early variety. 'Honeye' is another early and it performs in cool summers. I also like the orange-red 'Hapil'.
There are perpetual-fruiting varieties related to alpine strawberries. The best is 'Marie des Bois' but the flavour isn’t the sweet strawberry of summer. It’s an aromatic alpine strawberry flavour.
Try some of these delicious strawberry recipes
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