STRAWBERRY

Strawberries were probably unknown in Greece and Rome, and in Britain the first record of the fruit is in the early fourteenth century song ‘London Lickpenny’ in which the street cry ‘Strawberry rype’ first occurs. It would appear, however, that strawberries were grown in France a century earlier. Modern varieties began with Keen’s Seedling, British Queen, Dr Hogg, Waterloo and Sir Joseph Paxton, all introduced in the nineteenth century. Sir Joseph Paxton, though deteriorating, is still with us.

Cultivation. Strawberries will grow on most soils except those with an excess of lime, but will not tolerate poor drainage. They appreciate a sunny position, but will stand slight shade. Low-lying ground subject to spring frosts must be avoided, as the strawberry is particularly sus- ceptible. Thorough preparation of the ground is essential, especially on very dry land, if first-class crops are desired. Incorporate generous quantities of farmyard manure, compost, leaf mould or hop manure with the soil when digging. Bonemeal is also beneficial. The ideal planting periods are August-October or March-April. On light soils set the rows about 2 ft. apart with 1 ft. between individual plants. On heavier ground where growth will be stronger, 2 ft. 6 in. by 1 y2 ft. may be allowed. Try to plant in showery weather, but should a dry spell subsequently occur water until growth restarts. Plant firmly with the crown at soil level. In frosty weather, newly planted strawberries, like many other plants, tend to rise from the soil. They must be firmed again when conditions permit.

It is useful to give farmyard manure or compost as a surface mulch in autumn. Over-feeding with nitrogenous manures encourages excessive foliage and subsequent rotting of the fruits, but treatment with a complete fertiliser in February or March produces good results. After picking, clean up the beds and give a further application to strengthen the crowns for the following season.

Frequent shallow hoeing is necessary during spring and summer to destroy weeds. Avoid digging among the plants, as they are shallow-rooted. Unless it is desired to propagate, remove runners as they appear. Straw may be spread over the soil to go right underneath the plants after flowering, although this method is losing favour because straw may harbour slugs. Peat is a more effective means of protecting the plants and will also help to conserve moisture during dry periods. If this is not done the developing fruits will be splashed by mud and spoiled by slugs. Netting against birds is vital. Blackbirds, thrushes and starlings destroy their full share of slugs and snails, but they never overlook the choicest berries on the strawberry bed. Cloches give excellent protection and also ensure earlier fruiting. Plants under cloches often suffer from inadequate moisture, and additional watering is desirable. It is also useful to leave 2—3 in. between individual cloches, so that sufficient rain reaches the plants.

How to Pick Strawberries:

Strawberries should be picked immediately they are ripe, as the fruit deteriorates rapidly (Royal Sovereign lasts longer than other varieties). Strawberries are gathered with the stalk adhering, and must be absolutely dry.

Propagation:

Strawberries are propagated in June and July from runners. Even where space is very limited, it is usually possible to set aside a small bed for propagation. Only the best plants should be used, and one-year-old specimens generally produce the finest runners. Ideally, beds should be renewed each year, although Royal Sovereign will usually crop well for three years without re-planting. Plants affected with diseases must never be employed for propagating. These runners are pegged to the ground by placing wooden pegs or wire clips behind the young plants. Runners rooted in 3 in. pots transplant more easily. The rooted runners should be detached in September and planted in their permanent quarters.

Choice of Varieties:

Brenda Gautrey or Huxley Giant. A very popular variety in the Wisbech area which produces some of the best strawberries in the country. Does well on poor soils. Flavour not outstanding but makes fair jam.

Cambridge Favourite. A very popular early to mid-season variety with firm, conical, salmon-scarlet fruits very freely produced for some weeks.

It is resistant to frost and mildew, and is very tolerant of drought. Very satisfactory in the Midlands and is possibly the best variety for amateurs apart from Royal Sovereign. It is widely grown commercially (especially under cloches) as the fruits travel well.

There are a number of other varieties with the prefix Cambridge, e.g.

C. Early Pine, C. Late Pine, C. Rival, which are promising for garden cultivation.

Royal Sovereign. The best variety of all. Early with large bright red fruits of excellent flavour. The fruits are firm and lasting, and travel well, but plants must be from a sound strain.

Sir Joseph Paxton. Introduced in 1862, this variety is a few weeks later than Royal Sovereign, but good strains are rare. The flavour of the deep crimson fruits is probably unsurpassed. Best on heavy ground.

Strawberries in Barrels:

Where garden space is limited, as in many town gardens, strawberries can be grown in barrels, although this method is certainly not foolproof!

Having obtained the barrel, make sure it is absolutely clean and free from any impurities such as tar. Drill 1 in. drainage holes about 6 in. apart in the bottom. Next drill some larger ones about 2 ½ in. diameter in the sides. These larger holes should be staggered as if they are directly above or below one another, the roots will be unable to secure the maximum benefit from the compost.

Cover the bottom of the barrel with rubble, small stones or any porous material to a depth of 3 in. Fill the barrel with a compost consisting of 3 parts good loam and well-rotted manure, one part peat and one part sand. Bonemeal should also be added.

The strawberry plants are inserted in the holes as the barrel is filled.

To ensure that the plants receive ample supplies of moisture when in full growth, it is a good plan to insert a funnel or pipe about 3 in. in diameter in the centre. Fill this with small stones or rubble to enable the water to run through to the drainage holes at the base.

The barrel should be stood on bricks so that all surplus moisture can drain away.

Strawberries grown in barrels must be watered freely during dry weather and it is useless to attempt to grow them in this way unless this job is attended to regularly.

Alpine Strawberries. These bear smaller fruits than the normal type, but are for the most part perpetual, fruiting from June to late autumn. Should spring frosts destroy the blossom, the plants immediately produce another set of flowers. They tolerate very light soil provided it is not allowed to dry out during periods of drought. Birds usually ignore the fruits.

Cresta is a good variety which makes plenty of runners, so that the plants should be spaced at least 18 in. apart. Baron Solemacher is runner-less but makes a big plant and should also be allowed 18 in. Berries eaten directly they ripen have a disappointing flavour although they make excellent jam. If, however, the fruits are crushed slightly, sprinkled with sugar and left for several hours, this brings out the full flavour, which is most appetising.

Perpetual-fruiting Strawberries. A race of strawberries raised by crossing the Alpine varieties with large-fruited kinds. They bear rather smaller fruits than the latter, starting to bear about mid-July and continuing until early autumn.

It should be emphasised that these strawberries, though not difficult to grow well, must be given copious supplies of water during dry periods. They are heavy feeders and should only be planted in soil that has been liberally dressed with farmyard manure, compost etc. Plant in October away from the large-fruited varieties as perpetuals are often infected with virus disease. Individual plants should be not less than 2 ft. apart as the perpetuals have a more spreading habit than the standard large-fruited varieties. A sunny position is advisable. If a heavy crop is required in early autumn it is best to remove all flowers produced up to about May 20th. Blossom is produced continuously so there is no likelihood of losing fruit as with strawberries that crop once only. Five to six weeks elapse between open blossom and ripe fruit — perpetuals develop more rapidly than the standard varieties. La Sans Rivale, Triomphe and St. Claude are especially fine varieties (St. Claude prefers medium to heavy land which does not dry out too readily).

Cloches may be placed over the plants in late summer and early autumn to prevent the fruits rotting from damp and to extend the fruiting period. Cradles can also be made from heavy-gauge wire to keep the fruit trusses off the ground.

It is best to renew stock every year by means of runners, choosing those which have not flowered. Varieties like St. Claude which make very few runners should be propagated by dividing the crowns in October.

Insect Pests and Fungus Diseases.

Strawberry Aphid. Symptoms: With severe infections plants may become dwarfed and malformed, but characteristic twisting is usually the only effect on the leaves. The real significance of this pest lies in its ability to spread virus diseases among strawberry plants at any time between March and the end of September.

Treatment: Since the aphids are present both in the folds of unopened leaves and the undersides of the older leaves, control is not easy. A gamma-BHC (lindane) insecticide may be applied at the end of April or early May before the aphids begin to breed. Further applications in late June and September are also advisable. The under surface of the leaves, and the crowns, must be thoroughly wetted.

Strawberry Blossom Weevil, Elephant Fly or Beetle, or Needle Bug. Symptoms: The adult weevil, which is black, but similar in shape to the apple blossom weevil, lays its eggs by inserting them singly inside the unopened blossoms of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. The female weevil next proceeds to puncture the stalks of these unopened blossoms. If the attack is widespread, many damaged buds may be found on the ground close to the plants. This damage prevents any further development of the flowers and the newly-hatched larva remains inside until July, when it emerges as an adult weevil.

Treatment: The weevil hibernates in dead leaves, hedge clippings and similar rubbish. Collect and burn all such material in autumn and winter. Apply a generic insecticide dust in early May when the flower trusses are growing freely out of the crown, with a second application 10 — 14 days later.

Strawberry Ground Beetles or Black Beetles. Symptoms: Damage is principally confined to feeding on the fruits at night time. Berries are often malformed as a result of removal of developing seeds. Areas of the ripening fruits may also be eaten out.

Treatment: Remove all rubbish, e.g. hedge clippings, weeds and straw litter, since the beetles tend to overwinter among these residues. A generic insecticide dust gives some measure of control.

Strawberry Rhynchites or Stem and Twig Cutting Weevil. Symptoms: Attacks occur any time from April onwards and are characterised by the sudden wilting of individual leaves and flower trusses. This is caused by the insect puncturing the stems just below the point of collapse. Apply a generic insecticide dust directly attacks are noticed and repeat if necessary until just before flowering.

Slugs and Snails. Strawberries may suffer from these pests at any time of the year, though damage is most serious in early autumn. Metaldehyde in proprietary form gives good control.

Leaf Spot. Symptoms: Infection occurs mainly in wet summers, also if the plants are grown in partial shade. Leaves show rather small reddish-brown or purplish spots, which later develop greyish-white centres. Severe infections reduce the growth of the plant.

Treatment: Hand picking will usually suffice, but with bad attacks Bordeaux mixture may be used in early summer after fruiting. All leaves, together with straw or similar material used for protecting the fruits, may be burned off after picking.

Strawberry Mildew. Symptoms: The mildew first appears as greyish-white patches on the undersurface of the leaves, which subsequently curl. Flower stalks, flowers and fruits may all be attacked. Treatment: Once the fruits are attacked, control is impossible. Dusting with a finely divided sulphur preparation from April onwards at fortnightly intervals is recommended.

Virus Diseases of the Strawberry.

Crinkle. Symptoms: Leaves are small and crinkled with reddish-purple spots with yellow margins. Plants are weakened with a consequent reduction in yield.

Yellow Edge. Symptoms: More widespread than crinkle and by far the most serious disease of the strawberry, particularly in the Eastern Counties. Leaves are small and curled with distinct yellowish markings round the margins. Ultimately the entire plant becomes flattened in appearance. Royal Sovereign is extremely susceptible.

Treatment for both diseases: Burn infected plants. The strawberry aphid is considered to carry virus diseases. There is no other cure than the purchase of healthy stock.

STRAWBERRY, CLIMBING:

A new type of strawberry of German origin has recently been tested in this country with promising results. It should be trained on a lattice or netting as the ultimate height is 6 — 7 ft. The mother plant fruits first, followed by the runners which crop for approxi- mately 3 months. With good cultivation, at least 9 lb. of fruit per plant should be gathered during the season. The runners die back in autumn but start into growth again the following spring. This should have several advantages over the conventional bush type. Frost damage will matter less where further crops may be expected from the runners, protection against slugs should be unnecessary and the fruits can be picked clean without becoming dirty from damp soil. The plants occupy very little space and weeding is reduced to a minimum.

STRELITZIA or BIRD-OF-PARADISE FLOWER P. Strelitzia reginae is a striking warm greenhouse plant which bears several purple and orange flowers on 3 ft. stems in spring. Grow in John Innes Potting Compost, and ensure a minimum temperature of 55 degrees F. Give plenty of water in summer but only water in winter when the soil is really dry. Increase by detaching suckers in early spring.

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