Refreshing the strawberry bed

I have had lots of fun overhauling the strawberry bed this week.

We have an old brick bed adjoining the greenhouse which is approximately nine feet long by three feet wide. Once the plants start developing their fruit in early summer we add wooden frames covered in netting to protect them from birds.

We had a disappointing crop over the summer (two to three large punnets only) mainly because many of the plants were a few years old and past their best; the tubers where gnarly and protruding from the earth and I think the plants struggled to keep themselves going!  They did however produce lots of runners (these run along the ground looking for a place to anchor their roots and eventually become baby plants that will flower and fruit the season after next).

When I started to tackle the plot it was one big jungle and difficult to see what to do first so I began by cutting away all of the stalks and leaves and leaving only the stumps with their brand new runners. Once I had a clear view of the bed I was able to remove any rotten plants, poorly placed plants, or old plants that had not produced runners. This resulted in more uniformed rows of strawberry plants (which makes watering, weeding and picking easier) and made for an easier view of the runners.

Next I looked for the healthiest of runners and cut them back to the first rooting shoot (sometimes runners will produce two or three baby plants along their length but have to work twice as hard to feed them all)! I weighted down each shoot with a big stone to allow the tiny roots (just visible) to cling to the soil below and take hold.

In removing the old plants and weighting down new runners I took care to make sure I didn’t limit next year’s fruiting potential. For example, even though they were on their last legs I retained the old plants that were producing strong baby plants, I kept all other healthy plants as they will be the ones that will flower and fruit next year and, finally, I filled any holes with plants already grown from last year’s runners. At the beginning of next season I will be able to replace the oldest and weakest plants with the new plants provided by this year’s runners.

Below is my 5-step recap (mainly to remind myself)!

1. Cut away all stalks/leaves taking care not to cut off the runners!

2. Remove old plants that are not producing runners or fruit (tidy up the rows)

3. Weight down runners with stones

4. Surround plants with fresh compost to replenish nutrients

5. Water well

Next year I will be using this experience to build a strawberry bed from scratch at The Little Grange in France. The goal is to create a well-stocked kitchen garden at the back of the house incorporating fruit, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. SCH

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