STRAWBERRIES

commercially grown strawberries stacked

Strawberries, like their distant cousins, roses, are popular with home gardeners. They are the fruit of choice because they produce a crop in the first year, are easy to see and to pick, and are deliciously sweet if picked at the right time. They are also easily propagated from runners – if left to their own devices they will reproduce themselves anywhere they can get a plantlet to take root. Ours are now growing many metres from the original bed!

History

In France, during the early 18th century, strawberries were bred from the common woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca). The production of strawberries that we would recognise today, began in France in the mid-18th century. Plants were brought to Europe from both the North American and South American continents.1 Many of these were cross-bred to create varieties that are the parents of the commercial and/or homegrown types we know today.

There are different varieties of strawberries (genus: Fragaria). Some grow well in the subtropics, producing fruit from May to October (Australia). Others grow well in temperature areas, producing fruit from October to June (Australia). 2

HOW TO GROW STRAWBERRIES

Strawberries can be grown from new plants bought from the garden centre. it is also possible to buy plants or bare-rooted runners by mail order. These are usually available in autumn. If you buy runners by mail order, you need to get them into the ground soon after their arrival at your home.

Some ambitious people have tried to grow strawberries from seeds, but I do not know of anyone who has been successful in this endeavour.

Because of their habit of growing runners, strawberries can be grown ornamentally in a hanging basket. The hanging ‘pups’ will not grow fruit but can be removed to their own container when they are big enough. However, we have found that it was difficult to keep the required amount of water up to the plants in a hanging container. Other people recommend growing them in rain guttering on a fence – we have also tried this option but, again, were not able to keep up with their water requirements.

Now that we are heading towards the end of summer, take some time to research the best varieties of strawberry for your location. You will then be ready to buy them when they appear in the garden centres or to order them online when mail orders for strawberries open.

CHILL HOURS – let’s get a little nerdy for a moment!

Strawberries require a certain number of “chill hours” to develop flowers.1 Chill hours, also called “chill units”, simply means that each variety of strawberry needs a certain number of hours of cold for it to produce flowers and fruit. Many types of strawberries require 200-300 hours of temperatures between 0°C and 7°C; that is, over the ninety days of winter, the temperature needs to be under 7°C for a minimum of three hours a day (on average). Therefore, it is important to know whether the variety you are considering is suitable for the area in which you live. Sydney has, on average, about 640 chill units3 — but your microclimate could be different!

Some varieties of strawberries do not produce a good crop until the second year but other varieties crop well in the first year. It is usual for strawberries to be replaced every three years or so. You can do that by purchasing commercial potted plants, commercial runners or buy using your own – disease free, of course!

STRAWBERRY PESTS & DISEASES

Humans love strawberries, and so do a huge range of other animals. Birds, lizards, insects, slugs and snails are quite happy to munch on your almost-ripe fruit!

To combat the birds, we cover our strawberry bed and it’s quite effective – as long as we only put the cover on after the flowers have been pollinated (the netting is effective at keeping bees out as well as birds). Friends of ours collected small ‘rocks’ and painted them to look like ripe strawberries. then spread them around the strawberry patch. While the real fruit was still green, the birds pecked at the hard surface of the fake strawberries and, by the time the fruit was ready to eat, the birds had stopped visiting!

The variety we grow here is called ‘Alinta’ which is considered to be one of the better varieties for growing in western Sydney. However, we have had all sorts of issues with our strawberry plants this year. Most of these can be attributed to the unusually wet weather.

strawberry leaves with black fungal disease spots

The biggest issue has been Cercospora Leaf Spot. This is a fungal disease which affects the leaves. Being a fungus, it can rapidly spread from leaf to leaf. It can occur from early spring onwards and is the result of warm temperatures and damp or humid weather.4

The weather here in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, much of Sydney and areas east of the Great Dividing Range, has been warm and humid for months. Almost all of our plants are affected by Cercospora to a greater or lesser degree. Affected leaves need to be removed from the plants. Dead or dying leaves also need to be removed from the ground because the fungal spores can overwinter in the soil.

This is one reason why strawberries are often grown on a mulch, such as straw, to prevent contact with the ground and the splashing of fungal-infected soil onto the leaves.

FUN FINAL FACT

close up view of strawberry fruit showing 'seeds'

Strawberries are actually not berries at all! They are a type of ‘aggregate accessory fruit’ – meaning the fruit does not come from the ovaries, as most berries do, but from the part of the plant that holds the ovaries. The ‘seeds’ on the outside of a strawberry are actually the ovaries, each containing a single seed! 1

Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

REFERENCES
1. Berries Australia, About Strawberries
2. Plant Health Australia, Strawberries
3. PlantNet, Chill Hours Guide for the Home Gardener
4. Bonnie L. Grant, Cercospora Of Strawberries: Learn About Leaf Spot On Strawberry Plants

Published by Lynne

I'm one half of the partnership that owns "Hillside Homegrown and Handmade". We teach people how to develop food security by growing some of their own, learn basic handy-person skills to complete their own DIY projects and to live in a manner which is more sustainable for themselves, their families and the earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: