Here in South Africa strawberries have been planted for the past 60 years. Over the years more than 200 cultivars have been imported and evaluated and over time the cultivars have been whittled down to just 14 which are planted commercially by our farmers.
The main growing areas are in the northern part of our country in what is now known as Gauteng which is a summer rainfall area. In this region approximately 120 hectares of strawberries are planted annually. The balance of our strawberry crop is planted in the Western Cape region which is in a winter rainfall region. Here they plant about 180 hectares of strawberries annually.
The barrel method
There are various ways of planting strawberries commercially but in this article I want to focus on the home grower and present some ideas on how to succesfully grow strawberries in your home garden.
Below are two methods which can be used by home gardeners.
Obtain an old wine barrel and stand it upright. The barrel should be open at one end to allow you access to its insides.
Measure and mark the barrel every 30cm from its base to the open end at the top and draw lines around the circumference of the barrel on the 30cm markings.
Drill a 5cm hole on the first line and another every 30cm around the circumference of the barrel.
On the second line do the same except ensure that the holes are offset (not directly above or below the first ring of holes)
continuing this pattern until the whole barrel is drilled.
For strawberries to grow properly they need about 30cm between them.
Near the bottom of the barrel drill a number of smaller holes which will allow the barrel to drain properly.
Drainage is extremely important to the growth of healthy strawberries.
As a barrel is very heavy once filled with soil it is advisable to fit a number of castors on the bottom of it which will allow you to move it around once it is filled.
Before adding soil to the barrel there is one more thing you need to do.
Roll up some wire meshing into a circle with a diameter of approximately 30cm and long enough to reach from the botton to the top of the barrel. Cover the mesh with some porous cloth strong enough to keep sand out but porous enough to let water through.
Place this wire mesh circle in the middle of the barrel and fill it with course bark or perlite. This will ensure that the bottom plants also receive water when you water the barrel.
Before adding your potting soil to the barrel mix it with acid compost and a sprinkling of organic 2:3:2 and bonemeal.
Now start filling the barrel with your potting soil up to the level of the first series of holes. Tamp the soil down firmly.
Once you have done that its time to plant your first row of strawberry plants. Do this from the inside ensuring that the plants are sticking through the holes and that the roots are firmly anchored in the soil.
When you have finished planting the first row add a cupful of slow release fertilizer pellets on top of the first layer of soil and strawberry plants then start adding more potting soil till you reach the next layer of holes.
Follow the instructions set out above until you reach the top of the barrel tamping down the soil as you add each layer.
You should now have a barrel with a series of well spaced strawberry plants hanging out the side of it.
Water the plants by filling the central core with water, this will ensure that all the plants get an adequate supply of water. When adding liquid fertilisers feed the strawberries through the central core.
Diarise to feed the barrel with a liquid fertiliser every 7 to 10 days .
If the barrel is placed in a position where only some of the plants are getting sun rotate the barrel on its castors every few days so that all the plants get an equal amount of sunlight. This will ensure that all your plants grow at more or less the same rate.
Planting on the ground:
Prepare the soil you are going to plant your strawberries in ensuring that it is well drained and mixed with an acid compost.
Add a little 2:3:2 and bone meal to the soil as well.
It is necesssary to turn the soil to a depth of about 25cm ensuring that the compost and fertilisers are properly mixed in.
Allow the soil to settle for a day or two before planting.
When planting ensure that plants are at least 30cm apart in all directions and that the crown of the plant is not covered by soil.
If you are planting in plastic the beds should be prepared before adding the plastic. When planting cut holes through the plastic.
Where plastic is not being used mulch the soil with bark or straw to minimise water evaporation,
Once the plants have been planted you should water them deeply 2 to 3 times per week in the mornings.
Strawberries should be fed with a liquid fertiliser once per week if growing under plastic sheeting or otherwise with a
sprinkling of 3: 1: 5.
The plants produce many runners, but only allow only 1 or 2 to develop per plant to improve the quality of your fruit.
When fruit starts to ripen water less frequently but DO NOT allow the plants to dry out completely.
Allow the fruit to ripen on the plant before picking to get the best flavour out of your fruit.
Nutritional value of strawberries
Strawberries are high in nutritional value, dietary fibre and
contain vitamin C and manganese as well as potassium, folate,
vitamin B2, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, omega-3 fatty acids,
magnesium, copper, and vitamin K
They also contain an array of beneficial phytonutrients,
including flavonoids, anthocyanidins and ellagic acid.
You now have a garden full of very beneficial strawberry plants.
Now what can you do with the fruit?
Strawberry Health Drinks
Wash eight or nine large strawberries, cut off the green stalks and place in a blender
Add a cup of plain yoghurt and sugar to sweeten.
Blend together and serve in a wineglass with a strawberry on top.
Delicious and extremely healthy.
Can be used by gout sufferers to alleviate pain in an attack.
Follow the same instructions as above but add a banana to the mix.
Makes another delicious health drink.