Saturday, August 20

Wood chip berries?

Gradually our strawberry bed lost vigour and wasn't really performing. Generally speaking after three productive years you need to replace plants.

At the end of 2014 we spent time reading up on varieties and ordered our chosen few.

On 5 February 2015 our first selection containing, Cambridge Favourite, Cupid, Elsanta, Fenella and Royal Sovereign, arrived from Ashridge Nurseries. A few days later on 10 February three more varieties, Malwina, Marshmello and Vibrant arrived from Marshalls. We had ten plants of each variety which were planted into pots and grown on in our garden greenhouse.
We had earmarked and prepared a bed for our new strawberries which we planted up on 7 April 2015. We hadn't intended buying 80 plants and we had decided that this bed had only enough space for six of the varieties. Malwina and Cupid had to wait until we decided on and prepared another location. These remaining two varieties were planted on 23 April.
As you can see the strawberries were planted through weed control fabric and mulched with wood chippings. Really they should be called wood chip berries rather than strawberries.

As expected 2015 was a settling in period and fruit production was low but this year as expected things vastly improved as the following chart shows.
Not all varieties passed muster though. The Vibrant strawberry plants more or less all died . One or two Elsanta died and a couple were weedy specimens and one or two Marshmello died or turned out to be weak and fruitless.
Bed 1
Fewer fruiting plants in part accounts for the lower harvest produced by Marshmello and Elsanta. I am discounting Vibrant as a write off which is disappointing as that variety along with Elsanta was the first to produce fruit.

One plant of Fenella struggled and didn't fruit but this didn't prevent Fenella from being our best performing variety.
Bed two
All the plants from the remaining varieties grew strong and healthy but in spite of producing good plants, Cambridge Favourite and Royal Sovereign didn't perform as well as I would have expected in the fruit production stakes.

Our strawberry harvest started with a trickle on 28 June and ended with a trickle on 16 August (unless we spot some more latecomers).
As can be seen from the above chart Cupid had the longest production 'season'.
Fenella started fruiting later than most of the other varieties but made up for this in the amount of berries produced. The latest to start fruiting was Malwina but this was also the last to finish fruiting although we did have three or four (literally) berries in August.

None of the berries disappointed flavourwise although the winner in the flavours stakes was without doubt Malwina.
We were not as impressed with the Royal Sovereign berries which were often misshapen and a more orange red. Even though they were amongst the best plants, berries along with those from Cambridge Favourite tended to be smaller than those of other varieties.

As the fruit began to develop, we protected the berries from birds by netting using a new (to us) softer netting that proved much easier to handle than the stiff netting that we have use in the past.
Netting doesn't however protect from slugs but, considering the damp conditions that prevailed this year, we expected that slugs would be a major problem. Fortunately the slugs didn't spoil many berries. They did make a meal of some berries which, once nibbled, were left in place for them to finished. This way they are less likely to move on to a new fruit. I also wonder whether the wood chippings prove to be less hospitable to slugs. The berries didn't rot as I had expected this year and again maybe the chippings provide a drier bed for the berries than straw. Another point is that water tends to pass through the weed control fabric rather than sitting on the surface.

The netting has now been removed in preparation for tidying up the plants. The dead leaves need cutting back and unwanted runners removed. We have already pinned some runners into pots of compost to root them. As I have already mentioned we have some gaps where plants have died and need replacing.
We have taken more runners from Malwina than any other variety as we intend to fill the gap left by Vibrant with new Malwina plants. This should give us a better harvest at the end of the season. The only other runners taken are from varieties to replace the odd dead plant.

It could be that the varieties will perform differently if the conditions next year differ from this year, for that we will have to just wait and see.

22 comments:

  1. This is a great report Sue and very timely. Although I'm cutting back on fruit and veg growing generally I would like to do better with strawberries. I am planning to start from scratch next year. If I chose just two varieties, Cupid and Malwina would seem to offer best yield, flavour and the longest season between them?

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    1. Good choices, Jessica. I hope that they do as well for you as they did for us.

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  2. I haven't grown strawberries for a few years now, but will definitely think about some of the varieties you've highlighted here. Mine will have to be grown in pots from now on, so we'll see how we go!
    What have you made or plan to make with the harvest?

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    1. We really like to eat our fruit fresh, Deborah as we generally have a bowl of fruit for dessert. My sister has had a share too. Any fruit we haven't eaten fresh has been made into a compote with as little sugar as possible and then frozen to have with morning porridge, ice cream or yoghurt.

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  3. I have decided to give up growing Strawberries, and have thrown away my few (16) plants. Without the big open space available like you have, the quantity of fruit produced was not worth the effort involved. Yours are in a different league!

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    1. We are lucky to be able to dedicate a decent amount of space to them, Mark.

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  4. Really interesting to see this post Sue, and to see what varieties you've had most success with. I'm going to take out my honeoye strawberries and replace them I think as they haven't been particularly successful. Malwina or Fenella look like good choices.

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    1. It's a shame as Honeoye sounded to be a good variety, CJ. I only hope our plants do as well in subsequent years,

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  5. Very interesting. We need to start planning our beds. Definitely keen to try Malwina

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    1. Malwina would be top of our list, Belinda

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  6. I like the idea of using woodchip instead of straw. I will try that next year. I've lost track of the variety we grow as I've propogated from runners and not kept a record of what they are. But we had a good crop of strawberries this year and I was able to make jam. We still lost some to slugs and some of them rotted.

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    1. We have a ready free supply of wood chippings on our allotment site, Margaret so it's economical too.

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  7. Great report and roundup Sue, 24kg of berries is quite a haul!

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    1. The berries came in manageable amounts too. Jayne so we could enjoy most fresh.

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  8. That's very good harvest! May be Vibrant need another year of try! ;)

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    1. The plants didn't survive to try again, Malar

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  9. This is most helpful, I am starting over with strawberries so shall bookmark this. Now I wonder what went wrong with Vibrant? What a shame after such a positive start.xxx

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    1. No idea why, Vibrant failed, Dina as it was right alongside Fenella.

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  10. The lady that I plot share with would like strawberries along the edge of all the beds for ease of picking. Her existing strawberries give huge fruit (no idea what variety) but have probably not been renewed, ever. I'd like the sound of Malwina for interplanting with the existing ones. Good tip about the wood chip, we have the same arrangement, a big help-yourself pile left by the gate. Interested in your netting, where did you get it from?

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  11. Very helpful informations !!
    Greetings

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    1. I hope that you found it useful Ela

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