Top Of The Crops - Strawberries

Growing Strawberries in Polytunnels

Gardening is one of the great British pastimes, and no other crop is more synonymous with England than the strawberry. Throughout history, this plump, sweet and delicate fruit has been synonymous with the pleasures of the summer season. The perfect fruit for a tasty pot of jam, a festive jelly, a gorgeous accompaniment to a scone and tea, or simply served with cream for pudding, strawberries are a truly special fruit.

How a polytunnel can help you to grow strawberries

However, growing them can be finicky business. Maybe you have tried to grow them in the past and have given up in dismay. Your strawberries might have been attacked by aphids or destroyed by poor weather conditions. Maybe some wily birds made off with all of them! You might think that you need a true green thumb in order to grow strawberries with success – but this isn’t the case.

Growing strawberries is a lot easier when you use a polytunnel. Even novice gardeners can have success and yield a rich crop of these sweet red fruits. In fact, by using a polytunnel, you can often harvest your strawberries as early as May, or even April!

The most important reason to use a polytunnel is to be able to grow strawberries in any climate. You can enjoy your strawberries across a much wider swath of time, and freeze the rest for use in the winter. These innovative tunnels also allow you to control the temperature, ventilation, humidity, and irrigation in your garden. They are also much easier to use and install than a greenhouse! Think of your polytunnel as your own little greenhouse, ready to help you succeed with your crops.
 

How To Grow Strawberries

  • Choose the variety of strawberry you want to grow

There are a lot of different varieties of strawberries out there. Before you do anything else, you need to decide which is the right one for you. You can go with the big, robust strawberries that grow easily in the garden, or the smaller alpine variety. You could even try to grow wild strawberries, but remember that they are very, very tiny! You need hundreds of them to equal the mass of just a few dozen bigger, hybrid strawberries. While the vast majority of strawberries are red, there are also white and golden varieties out there.

  • Preparing the soil before you start planting

Both strawberry seeds and plants appreciate rather acidic soil, and they thrive in a place with a lot of ventilation and drainage. They can survive with the same pH level as your other fruit and vegetable plants, but in this case do not add any wood ash or lime. A few weeks before you plan to plant, add in some compost. Water this regularly so that the compost mixes thoroughly into the soil before planting.

  • To sow or not to sow – should you plant the seeds from scratch?

    Most gardeners (especially novice gardeners) choose to start the process by buying strawberry plants, and then planting them. This is the easiest method, but some people like the challenge of starting from seeds!

    The best time to sow your seeds is in the early autumn, and so you will want to order your seeds by the end of the summer. You can find seeds online, by mail order, and at any shop that has a gardening section. Placing your polytunnel over their surface area will give them a much better chance of survival. After your first successful year, your plants will send out dozens of runners. This means that you won’t have to do much work in the future!
     
  • The planting process

    As mentioned above, most people start by replanting small strawberry plants in their garden (or even in a pot on a balcony). You need to begin by making holes that are deep enough and wide enough to cover the plant’s entire root system, ensuring that it does not bend or break.

That said, don’t go too deep! The roots should be well covered, but the actual plant and leaves should be set atop the surface of the soil. Make sure that you leave at least 20 inches (50 cm) between plants, and leave 4 feet (1.3 metres) in between rows. This gives your strawberries enough room to grow and sprawl. Place a polytunnel on top and you are good to go!

  • What do your strawberries need to survive?

    Strawberries can actually be quite easy to grow, as long as you provide them with the things they need. That is: sun, water, shelter (a polytunnel is ideal) and fertile soil with adequate drainage.

    One thing you need to watch out for is what was growing in that soil in the past. Do not plant your strawberries anywhere that has grown potatoes or tomatoes in the previous season, as they are prone to verticillium wilt. This disease can then infect your strawberries.
     
  • What to do when fruits begin to appear?

Good for you! Fruits have started to form on your strawberry plants, so you are doing something right. Your care strategy now needs to change slightly – you can no longer water your plants from above. It is a good idea to keep the fruits and leaves dry.

Do not water them in the evening, as they will then remain cold and wet all night, and this can rot them. Some gardeners add straw, wood chips or shredded newspaper around their plants so that the fruits do not rest on the soil and rot.

  • Ventilating your polytunnel

You need to keep your polytunnel well ventilated so that bees can get inside to pollinate your plants. That said, other bugs will want in as well, and they can wreak havoc on your crop! You might want to consider using an all-natural insect repellent on your garden. Netting your crop is also a good idea, preventing foxes and birds from gobbling up your hard work. Make holes that are approximately 1.5 cm. in order to keep butterflies out, and the bees in!

  • Do you want to extend your crop? Add some ‘day neutral’ plants.

    If you have the extra space and you want an even bigger harvest, consider adding in what are called ‘day neutral’ or ‘everbearer’ plants. They don’t have the same quality of taste and texture, but they will bear fruit on and off throughout the entire summer and into the fall. You might even be picking fresh strawberries when the first frosts appear!

    Consider going with Unwin’s Finesse varietal, which will yield fruit until the end of September. Your everbearers produce few runners, so you will need to plant them again next year. Instead, their energy goes into producing more fruit.

 

CALENDAR


Sowing Time

Autumn sowing: September to October

Harvesting Time

For traditional strawberries: July and August
For everbearers: April - September

 

How and when to harvest your strawberries

  • Too excited to wait?

Are you excited about your first taste of all of your hard work? You’ll be happy to know that you can encourage your strawberry plants to fruit earlier when you use a polytunnel for the process. Are really ready? Can’t wait any longer? Try a heated polytunnel to speed up the growing time even more. With a heated model you do need to be careful about the heat levels. Too high a temperature can prevent your plants from flowering.

  • When are strawberries ready for harvest?

Summer strawberries will produce their entire yield fruit for a small window in July and/or August. Your everbearers will yield in smaller bursts for a longer period of time; between early summer and early fall.

  • How do you know if strawberries are ready for harvest?
    While you might be champing at the bit to get at these sweet fruits, they are not ready until they are fully red and plump. Pick them at the height of the day’s heat, as the sun will have warmed their natural sugars, and they taste delicious. Eat them immediately, or freeze them right away.

Anyone can grow strawberries. Even if you have no previous experience, it is surprisingly easy. By following these simple steps you can have a full harvest of strawberries by next summer. Just imagine how delicious your very own strawberries will taste! Remember, while a polytunnel is not a necessity, they can really help you succeed. This is especially true if you have never gardened before.

Happy gardening!

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