Decades have passed, yet hardly any strawberries have been tasted by humans because creatures of the soil and birds have got to them first. The berries of this hybridised variety are too heavy to be supported by their own stalks so most of the fruit lies on the ground. This year after taking a tip from the name, I bought some straw from the pet shop and draped it loosely around the plants. After a couple of rainfalls, the straw formed a protective mat. Birds were still a problem though, so we compromised and harvested the remaining strawberries while they were slightly unripe. There were enough for a serving, no sugar required, in time for my mum to enjoy while watching Wimbledon on TV.
Anyway, I'm sure that unripe strawberries from the garden have more flavour than those sold to tennis spectators. The Elsanta variety of strawberry has been criticised repeatedly in the media, bred to produce large fruit with a long shelf-life, but I've read that it's the amount of water pumped into commercially-grown strawberries that dilutes their flavour. It seems that neglected ones taste better.
The idea of growing strawberries in my own garden didn't appeal after this experience. I didn't see the point for such a small yield and it's so disheartening to pick a bright red, juicy berry only to find that it has been pecked/sucked/bitten on the other side. However, in May my neighbour offered a baby strawberry plant. Not expecting much I didn't bother to buy a bag of straw, but even though the leaves were withering, it was attempting to produce fruit. I transplanted it into a compost bag, soaked it with water, then left it to fend for itself.
|early June 2011|
|end of July 2011|
It's been flowering and producing miniature, flavour-packed fruit continuously since June. If I had to select one of the fruit and veg that I've trialled this year to grow again, it would be this one.
The alpine strawberry, a form of wild strawberry - fragaria vesca, forms clumps rather than spreading by suckers like its other wild & hybridised cousins. This is a disadvantage if you're interested in using the plant as a ground-cover or an advantage if like me, you want the plant to concentrate its energy on producing fruit. They are the size of raspberries, held up above the plant by their stalks (no need for straw). It's advertised to fruit continuously from early summer till November in sheltered areas.
As a child, I always used to wonder why strawberries tasted nothing like strawberry-flavoured sweets; these taste better. They can't be found in supermarkets because they cost too much to produce commercially but they are sold to high-end restaurants as a gourmet ingredient. It's incredible to think that there is evidence to suggest that early stone age man hunting & gathering in Northern Europe was delighted to find wild strawberries too.
The history of strawberries :
|side shoots of giant hollyhock|