Fruit

Strawberries

I love growing strawberries. I can’t stress that enough. It’s so easy and so satisfying, and one of the things I really enjoy is that we still approach strawberries as a seasonal fruit. Years and years ago, all fruit and veg would have been seasonal, but everything is so readily available now that it’s less special. We all look forward to strawberry season in the summer, just like we all look forward to pumpkins (even if it’s just for carving) in late autumn.

I started growing strawberries by accident in 2017 when I moved back the UK. I moved into a house in Essex (before Room 101) that had established strawberries in the garden and quickly realised that they were the best strawberries I’d ever had. Anyone who grows will know how pleasing it is to pick fruit just because you fancy it. Fancy strawberries and cream after dinner? No problem – there’s loads in the garden (top tip: always make sure you have cream in the fridge during strawberry season).

I didn’t live in that house for too long, but fortunately, I managed to use the runners to grow new strawberries that summer, so when I moved into Room 101, I could bring them with me (it’s not stealing if I grew them myself…).

On arriving in Room 101, I found that there was already a significant strawberry patch (hooray!). The patch was in a bit of a mess when we arrived, but the strawberries seemed to be doing well. Last year, 2019, was our first full summer at Garden 101 and we managed to pick 4kg of strawberries out of our own garden, not including the ones that were inevitably eaten by birds, insects or us before they made it to the scales!

As a result of our strawberry glut, I enjoyed my five minutes of fame as a jam producer in my office (you know, at my ‘proper’ job) and managed to give everyone a jar. This year, I’m back in the jam production business and we’re already on our way to beating last year’s strawberry weight! I’ve already been asked to reserve jars for some of my colleagues. My jam last year kept us going well into 2020. There are a million and one jam recipes online – I use this one here. It doesn’t require pectin but does come out more of a compote than a set jam, in my experience, so I mix my strawberries with redcurrants, which are full of pectin.

Another strawberry discovery in Garden 101 was that of bubbleberries! No – I’d never heard of them either. They look very much like Alpine strawberries and are much smaller than regular strawberries, but their defining feature is that they taste of bubblegum – yes, bubblegum! At the start of summer last year, I tried a couple and didn’t think much of them, so much so that I almost pulled them up. Lesson – never pull anything up until you’ve spent a whole year with it. Close to midsummer and beyond, the taste changed from what I would describe as slightly-bland-strawberry into the taste of bubblegum sweets (you know the ones that are usually bright blue). Cue several hours on Google to find out what it was we had. We don’t have enough of these yet to do anything significant with, except eat them straight off the plant (not complaining), but I’m working on growing some more – watch this space.

As we know, I’m not getting into the habit of providing a ‘how to’ guide – there are enough of those already – but my top tips for growing strawberries are simple. Keep them well watered. Keep them well fed once it’s fruiting time. Plant the runners to get more plants for next year (although if these grow early in the season, I tend to cut them off, so as much energy goes into the strawberries as possible). Keep them tidy. Keep picking – every day if you have to. Make jam (this is key). BBC Gardeners World has a great page on growing strawberries, with a video from Monty Don on protecting them, which I highly recommend – you can find that here.

Strawberry plants tend to get past their best after a few years, so do keep growing new plants to replace them with. As ever, though, strawberries want to grow, so don’t stress about them. Last year, I was completely lax about planting the runners in the patch until it became apparent that the new plants weren’t putting roots into the soil, which is covered in gravel around the strawberries (that was here when I arrived in Garden 101, too). In late summer, I snipped all the dying runners and planted them in containers on the off chance that a few would grow. I kept them watered, but left them out (pretty much neglected) all winter. This year I have something like 25 new plants as a result. They won’t fruit this year, but next year I’ll reap the benefits.

I hope you all enjoy growing some strawberries. They’re great for balconies and small spaces in containers and they’ll bring you so much joy!

Homemade Jam

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