Fresh Strawberries and new varieties for your garden
In the kitchen garden, strawberries are just as important as potatoes.
By Lars Lund
Strawberries in the garden are a pure delight, and there should always be room for them. Nowadays, we can buy strawberries all year round, but there is nothing that tastes better than homegrown strawberries that you can even cultivate organically. Non-organic strawberries are often sprayed up to 11 times, and since they are handpicked, there may be bacteria on the strawberries that you have no control over.
It is difficult to pinpoint the best varieties. The industry prefers large, transportable, durable, disease-resistant, and tasty strawberries – also in that order, while private garden owners prefer the reverse order. Taste and preference vary and depend on the variety one grew up with. If you ask older gardeners which varieties taste best, they will most likely mention Dybdahl, Senga Sengana or Mieze Schindler. Older varieties are often associated with childhood memories.
At the top of the most aromatic strawberries are the varieties Dybdahl (Danish) and Senga Sengana (German). This is shown by a taste test among a group of people. A Danish taste table also includes the varieties Polka (Dutch) and Mieze Schindler (German). Following the top four varieties are Flair (Dutch), Daroyal (French), Zefyr (Danish), Korona (Dutch), Dania (Danish), Pandora (English), and Malwina (German). At the very bottom are the Dutch varieties Rumba and Salsa.
Three new varieties have emerged, according to the Danish Horticultural Society.
Two of them are Dutch and one is German. In the Netherlands the research in strawberry cultivation is extensive and that is perhaps why the Netherlands are amongst the world's largest producers.
One of the new varieties is called Faith. It has very large, beautiful, and conical berries and, most importantly, produces many berries. This is crucial because strawberries take up space in a garden, and crop rotation is necessary to avoid diseases. The berries are very juicy and grow with strong and long stems, which means, there should be ample space between the rows. The taste is mild, and the variety ripens slightly later.
The cream of the crop
The other Dutch variety is named Vivaldi and is a mid-early variety. According to the Danish Horticultural Society and Danish strawberry expert Bodil Damgaard Petersen, it ranks at the top in terms of taste. It combines both sour and sweet flavours. The variety is very robust and can withstand rain without becoming mushy. The berries grow on short stems, which means they are somewhat protected by the leaves. The yield is not as high as the yield of other varieties, but no berries go to waste.
A unique one
The German variety is named Renaissance. It belongs to the later varieties. Its taste is completely different from the typical strawberries. It is aromatic with a deep strawberry flavour, reminiscent of the wild Chilean strawberry, the ancestor of cultivated strawberries. In breeding efforts, much emphasis has been placed on developing a berry with strong aroma compounds. It might be a good replacement for Senga Sengana as it has slightly larger berries. The yield is decent. One drawback of all late varieties is that you need to be aware that the raspberry beetle may damage the flowers. However, it is great that two new late varieties have appeared, as there are not many of them.
How to do it
Strawberries are easy to cultivate. They should be renewed every 2 to 3 years, but they produce new plants themselves, so you always have the plant material at hand that you need.
If you don't have a strawberry bed, you should have one this year. Just plant before August 26th. After this date, the strawberries start setting new flowers for the next year's harvest, so they should ideally establish a root system before that. At the same time as planting, apply a small amount of fertilizer, but only a little. Fertilization is mainly done after harvest and only in moderate amounts.
Be careful with the crown bud
Prepare your bed, weed it, and then plant the strawberries with a 30 cm distance. Do not plant so deep that the crown bud (the shoot that sticks up in the middle of the plant) is covered with soil.
A strawberry is made of 90% water, which is why the plants must not lack water. If possible, water with a soaker hose so that the flower buds and leaves do not get wet. Later, this can cause mould. Lack of water results in fewer berries but with even better taste.
Pollination and strawberry-seeds
Strawberries require pollination, and bees take care of that naturally. If you feel like it, you can also try sowing strawberries. The seeds are not the actual berries but are located on the surface of the berry. They are the small dark or green dots found on each berry. They sprout quickly, and you will have berries on the plants in no time.
Straw or mulch
A strawberry bed should be kept free of weeds, like any other bed. You can lay straw or grass clippings between the rows. This helps retain moisture and keeps the berries clean. A Christmas tree grower in Norway has found that strawberries grow quite well in wood chips. It keeps them free from many diseases and keeps the soil free of weeds. In Denmark and Norway, mostly plastic or straw is used between the rows, but wood chips are said to be even better.
When picking, it is easiest to kneel on a knee pad. Have an extra bowl at hand for any bad berries. Leave the small green leaves attached until you wash the berries. They help preserve the flavour.
Strawberries "produce offspring." Place them in a small pot with soil, so they can establish roots. Once they have done that, you can cut the shoot connecting the mother plant to the smaller plant and transplant the new plant into the bed. Do not plant where there have recently been potatoes or strawberries. The soil may contain nematodes that can damage your plants. Consider sowing plants, such as tagetes also called marigold, to clean the soil of nematodes.
Om Lars Lund
Danish horticulturist and journalist
Lars Lund has for many years engaged in the garden and greenhouse. Lars has published many books about greenhouses, and he has participated in many Danish horticultural TV shows. He is a walking garden encyclopaedia, and he has answers for most basic cultivation questions – also the more ambitious ones.
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