My strawberries, historically have had a bit of a rough ride. I would just take the goods until they slowed down and then would neglect them until it was time to start to think of them again. This was generally in August in late winter where I’d be out there in the freezing cold trying to disentangle the patch from a jungle of weeds as I cursed my lazy late summer self. Every year I vowed and declared to do better, but in the busyness of the high season, a plant not yielding terrific amounts was low on the list.
This time I think I’ve nailed it. Time will tell, but my strawberries will be treated with a whole lot more respect this season. To start with I have created new raised beds for them as they really didn’t enjoy life low down in the cold, sodden soil over the winter. And I don’t blame them. No one really likes wet feet – especially if it is freezing cold as well.
There are three raised beds with about 45 plants in each. Each bed is dedicated to plants in different stages of life. One has the new runners from the old plants of last season. These will put out a harvest for me, but not as fabulous as the ones in the next bed. Two year old strawberries are at their prime and have the best, fattest and most delicious strawberries. Then the last bed is the three year olds. I wouldn’t say they are on the way out, but the productivity is waning. At the end of the season I collect their runners and then reluctantly introduce them to the compost heap.
But even before I overhaul their beds I am thinking of them in other ways. Strawberries like a good mulch. It keeps the weeds down, it retains moisture and importantly it keeps the yummy ripening berries off the soil. This keeps them clean, dry and lessens the risk of rotting and going mouldy. The thing is the beds are large-ish. Each are 2.5m x 1.5m and so this requires a lot of mulch – at great cost. I don’t really have the resources for anything that comes at ‘great cost’ so I needed to have a rethink.
After a few years of practice and refining my technique I now have a plan that works well for the strawberries. I grow my own wheat. It is perfect. I got the idea one day while feeding the chickens. I thought “hmmm… I wonder….” Not all good ideas start with “hmmm… I wonder….” Some are right disasters, but others can be a stroke of genius – if I may say so myself. So I whisked away the chicken food out from under their beaks and sowed it in an empty bed in the garden in the autumn.
The beauty of it is wheat doesn’t mind growing over winter and makes an excellent cover crop and keeps the bed it is in weed free, due to its allelopathic properties. And it gives nice seasonal interest as a burst of greenery in an otherwise barren landscape. That is if you can get the seeds to germinate before the birds get to it. I have found birds from a country with no snakes have no residual primordial memory of them and are not afraid of plastic snakes, no matter how many you put out there. Next autumn I’ll try something new – probably less mad-cap.
Harvesting the wheat is timed nicely with getting the garden ready for spring, right before the seed heads form, because as cool as it would be to have wheat to make flour, getting to that stage would take too long and also it would become a weed seed in the mulch and even something as desirable as wheat is a weed in the wrong place.
Once the wheat is harvested I lay it out in my greenhouse to dry. This also works out with good timing and while it is drying most of the occupants of the greenhouse are out sunning themselves in the hardening off process so there is plenty of room. Then it is a simple case of laying them around the strawberry plants, leaving no dirt uncovered.
So the strawberries are off to a good start, with a thick layer of straw mulch. They are also in the sector system I set up, so will be weeded, fed and attended to on a Thursday – all year, not just while they are giving up the goods.
Having said that, I now need to look into effect bird protection measures as the fledgling birds are out of the nest and the stone strawberries are no longer working. I see another project coming on.
Come again soon – summer is so close and much longed for.
Sarah the Gardener : o)