I imagine that an independent survey would place the strawberry among the top five summer fruits. Once available only from late May to July, with perpetual varieties kicking in from mid summer to autumn, strawberries now appear on shop shelves all year round. But now they often do not have the fine flavour that made them so loved in the first place. When you grow your own you can rediscover that taste again.
We started out with three plants purchased by mail order from Holland. How glorious that first crop was! We’ve never had to buy another plant as they throw out runners every year and we could have hundreds if we wished, and we are also able to share plants with friends. We’ve tried not to let them take over the two vegetable beds: they would without any bother. They need to be replaced every three to four years, so the runners come in to play as the new plants.
The runners arch out gracefully and plant themselves in any convenient bit of earth in the ground or in a pot. If I intend to keep them I get them to root in small pots next to the parent plants, pinned down with a metal staple. This makes it easier to replant them when they have rooted. I cut off all unwanted runners as they weaken the plant. As complete takeover of the vegetable bed was becoming a real possibility I decided to plant the new runners in pots, this only worked for one season as the dreaded vine weevil colonized the pots after the first year. This year we have got a new raised bed, four feet by four, not very large but as much as we can accommodate. We found a space for it near the currant bushes, in full sun. As the runners root this year they will be housed in the new raised bed.
To keep the fruits protected and clean, I use paper from the shredder instead of straw, which can be difficult to obtain, this is a satisfying way to dispose of those Visa and other pesky bills. At the end of the fruiting season it is recommended to cut off all fading and withered leaves from the older plants. This seems to work well, it tidies up the patch and gives strong healthy plants the next season.
I do not think strawberries freeze well, they defrost in soggy lumps and make for watery jam. This means that the glut needs to be eaten or processed in a short time. After sharing with the blackbirds and any friends who call, we eat the best berries and make jam with the rest. This year I have tried freezing a container full of liquidized berries, I’ll see how this turns out as it’s faster than making jam when the pressure is on. All my friends may expect a pot of home-made jam for the next month or so.
How can a small garden provide a dedicated space for that most wonderful of summer fruits: the raspberry? For me the raspberry is the quintessential taste of summer. Until recent years their season in shops and markets was very short, and they are so perishable that they need to be eaten as soon as possible after being picked.
Shortly after we moved to our garden we purchased two summer raspberry plants (Rubus idaeas) to be placed tidily near the perimeter fence on the west side of the garden We have never netted them in case we would injure or kill visiting birds if they got caught in the net in the early morning. The first year we got a lovely crop of tasty succulent raspberries, which we shared with the neighbourhood blackbirds. The second year we had many more raspberry bushes and they filled the allocated space, we were able to make jam as well as eat them fresh and share with the birds. At this point we had put in our two vegetable beds in the sunny south west section, so we restrained the raspberries with a plastic barrier just under the soil. Two years of advance and retreat followed as the plants tried to escape their space, they even began to emerge in the new vegetable bed across the gravel path.
We carefully cut out the old canes each year and tried to limit the new canes as suggested by the experts. Scientific research showed us that the plants spread by sending out runners just under the soil which then sought to colonise new territories. Much as we loved the fruit this would result in the whole garden being swamped.
Finally I decided to dig them out, otherwise we would become a monoculture garden. Not able to bear the idea of being without them altogether, we selected the best behaved new canes (relatively speaking) and placed them in six large tubs (50 cm in diameter and 45 cm high) in the windy alley to the east of the house near the compost bins: exile indeed! This is a shadier area and is a fairly hostile environment for any tender plant. The tubs provide good drainage, which they like, and we mulch them every spring with home-made compost and water them well with stored rain water during any dry spells in summer.
Home-grown raspberries mature and ripen and cause a glut in a few short weeks. We eat them fresh in June and early July, but we freeze them for making jam later. Small quantities can be frozen each day as they ripen and they are perfect for making jam later in the summer. The process of freezing seems to make them more tart in flavour, so they are not suitable for eating defrosted, but they are better for jam and preserves.
The raspberries are thriving in their tubs, and while they bear somewhat less fruit, there is still plenty for the needs of humans and blackbirds.