Sunday 4 December 2016

Why do we all love Irish strawberries?

David Keeling

Published 18/06/2015 | 02:30

Strawberries are by far the most popular soft fruit grown in Ireland
Strawberries are by far the most popular soft fruit grown in Ireland

Freshness, for one! Strawberries are best picked in the morning and, if you are not lucky enough to eat them immediately, they are usually in store the next day - while imports take two days to travel here.

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And even though we complain about the rain, strawberries need lots of water and Ireland has it in spades (and buckets). Nowadays, most of our strawberries are grown undercover, but we collect rainwater on the roof of our glasshouses and recycle it to use in our growing.

Strawberries are by far the most popular soft fruit grown in Ireland and traditionally, they are associated with summer, with May and June being the prime months for picking field-grown crops.

Developments in horticulture allow for strawberries to grow undercover, either in glasshouses or in tunnels, and Irish strawberries are now available about nine months of the year. However, for many, there is nothing to beat the flavour of a summer strawberry.

One of the challenges in growing soft fruit , such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, is that it is vulnerable to attack from everything from birds to insects, fungus and moulds, viruses and other diseases, and in order to keep the use of chemical controls at a minimum, we use a system called Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

IPM involves a combination of natural methods and other permitted controls to ensure the plants maintain health and vigour. This may include, for example, using certain insects to act as predators and eat other insects such as aphids or thrips to control them.

The difference between IPM and conventional controls is that there will always be a sustainable population of pests in the field where the cycle of life takes place.

Even spider webs play their part in keeping down the number of harmful flying insects in the crops and the harvesting staff can be seen using brooms to clear the webs in front of them. This indicates a healthy natural environment.

We use both honey bees and bumble bees to help pollinate the crops. When the flowers are open, hives are placed in the fields from which the bees will go out to collect pollen. This needs to be carefully controlled as too many bees can cause damage to the flowers and too few bees can mean poor pollination and misshaped fruit.

New science has it that pollinating bumble bees can also be used to transport fungicidal controls to the flowers in with harming either the bees or the flowers.

David Keeling's grandparents planted their first strawberries in 1937 and he is the third generation on the farm in St Margaret's, north County Dublin, which grows 150 million strawberries every year.

Strawberry facts

Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside. The average strawberry has 200 seeds.

The most widely grown variety in Ireland is El Santa. Strawberries are low fat, low calorie and high in vitamin C, fibre, folic acid and potassium In parts of Bavaria, people tie small baskets of wild strawberries to the horns of their cattle as an offering to elves, believing that it will help produce healthy calves and an abundance of milk Strawberries are a member of the rose family.

Irish Independent

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