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Your step-by-step guide to growing this delicious berry.
Strawberries are a low ground-covering plant with dark green trifoliate leaves, which means that 3 leaflets are attached to each stem like a clover.
They can be grown from the tropics to the mountains as there are many varieties. There are also many ways of growing them, such as in a patch or ‘matted rows’ as they are known, where all the runners are allowed to thread the plants in the row together.
Other ways include strawberry pots with spouted sides, regular pots, hanging baskets, bags or even barrels with 5 cm (2 in) holes drilled into the sides for the strawberries to grow out of.
The plants need sun and most of all, a rich and well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. They also need netting from birds, and often straw (or plastic) is used around the plant to stop fruit from touching the ground and rotting.
Any damaged berries, whether from sunburn, insect injury or other causes, should be removed from the plant as rot can spread to other berries. New plants can be grown from runners (or stolons), but unless growing strawberries in a matted row you should remove these as they limit the amount of fruit the main plant produces.
Berries to be eaten immediately may be picked at any time, but if you plan to keep them longer, pick them in the early morning or on cool, cloudy days, as warm berries are soft and bruise easily. Pinch the stem with your fingertip and thumb, trying not to handle the berries themselves. Gently place the berries into
your bucket, and never overfill it as the berries at the bottom will get crushed. Keep the berries in the shade until you can put them in the refrigerator.
Strawberries keep a few days in the refrigerator, but really are best within half a day of picking. To freeze strawberries, spread hulled fruit across a tray lined with baking paper. Once frozen, transfer into zip-lock bags removing as much air as possible and store in the freezer for up to 12 months. Another idea is to stir whole or chopped strawberries through softened vanilla ice-cream, refreeze it and eat within 3 months.
To make strawberry syrup, combine an equal weight of caster (superfine) sugar and strawberries (hulled and chopped or left whole) in a saucepan. Add a splash of water and some vanilla bean, split and scraped. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle into warm sterilised jars. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. This is perfect on pancakes.
This is an edited extract from The Produce Companion by Merdith Kirton & Mandy Sincliar published by Hardie Grant Books $49.95
and is available in stores nationally.