strawberryYum! I've been eating strawberries – and for the first time in 30 years they're from my own garden. Not that I grew them myself! I've tried every year since I started gardening and always, my 20-30 plants have failed to produce more than a cup a small berries. This year's secret? I got my husband to take charge of the strawberries! Now, each time we harvest them we sit inside staring at the very decent sized bowl full of fruit trying to analyse what it is he's done differently to me.

Like him, I've always taken care, over winter, to load the strawberry bed with plenty of aged animal manure and seaweed. We've both held back on the lime as strawberries really don't like it. Each of has been vigilant about cutting off runners so the energy goes into the parent plant and not its off-spring. Warm days and cool nights give strawberries the best chance of fruiting and as that's pretty much the norm where we live, we can't blame the climate for the difference in our success. So what is it that Keith has done to the strawberry plants that I haven't? So far, we haven't come up with a lot.

When he separated the plants way back in early spring, he did space them further apart than I have done in the past (about 50 cm he reckons where as mine are almost touching). He also created mounds in the bed so the plants were actually sitting a-top low ridges. Unlike me, he didn't feed the plants with liquid manure every other week, and I noticed that he didn't cover them with bird netting until well after the first flush of flowers. Added into this mystifying equation is the fact that we had 11 weeks of non-stop rain in spring and early summer, followed by intensely hot weather during the setting and ripening of fruit. And one other observation: the middle ridge of plants (which received less light than plants on the outer two ridges of the garden) has fruited much less heavily.

So, what's the story? It seems as though lots of space is a priority, along with excellent drainage (growing on the ridges would have provided this). Plenty of water prior to and during flowering (but less as fruit is setting) is also likely to have helped. I'd take a guess that, all these years, I've been crowding my plants too closely together and feeding them far too much liquid manure so that all the nitrogen they received resulted in leaf rather than berry production. And although our bees do find their way through bird netting to pollinate flowers, perhaps many more of them visit if the netting isn't there.

Gardening is such a science. It's easy to see why women, traditionally barred from entering the field of physics and chemistry, turned to gardening instead and made such a fine job of it and so many interesting botanical discoveries. Good for them but when it comes to strawberry gardening, I think I'll leave that to the man of the house!

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