In bloom this week: strawberries
Sweeten up your summer by growing your own treats
Wimbledon may be over, but it always leaves a taste in my mouth for the Fragaria plant - commonly known as the garden strawberry.
The strawberry as we know it today was first was bred in Brittany in northern France in the 1750s, and was a cross between the eastern-north American Fragaria virginiana and the Chilean Fragaria chiloensis. Apart from being a popular source of fruit, wild strawberries have been sought out since ancient times for medicinal uses, such as treating depression. They also have pretty pink and white flowers during the summer months.
If you decide to grow some strawberries in your own garden there are a few vital tips that will help you achieve a delicious crop. First of all, these plants need lots of light - in fact, it has been said that reducing the light by half also halves the flavour, so get them into direct sunlight if you can.
Also, try to position them in a place that isn't too windy to make the bees' job of pollinating them easier.
Research suggests that organically grown strawberries can have more flavour than ordinary ones and I truly believe from having grown my own that this is true. My own plants grow fantastic runners and, every few years, I replant these as sometimes the plants need replacing. I have given many of these runners, planted in little sprayed tins wrapped with ribbon, as gifts too.
If you are planting them out in the garden, then keeping the fruit off the ground is a good starting point - this means it's out of direct reach of slugs, which can destroy every fruit on the plant overnight!
You could plant strawberries in raised beds or containers where they are easy to keep an eye on, and this also means that you can grow this yummy fruit regardless of whether you have a large garden or just a balcony.
When it comes to choosing soil, strawberries prefer to be growing in a slightly acidic one. If your soil isn't acidic, then you could plant them in a container with some peat-free ericaceous compost.
If you've gone to the trouble of self-seeding or planting organic strawberries, then you'll also want to use an organic fertiliser to get delicious fruit.
A fantastic natural fertiliser is a comfrey brew. The leaves are fermented in a bucket of water for four weeks and create a highly effective - though admittedly, pungent - liquid fertiliser, which is totally natural.
When it comes to harvesting, it is best to pick the fruit when the berry is totally red as, though they do ripen slightly after being picked, most vitamins are produced before. Some people even say that on dry, sunny afternoons the sugar content in strawberries is highest which means that the flavour of the fruit is best!