Popular Varieties: Elsanta, Cambridge Favourite, Honeoye
Store At: Refrigeration will preserve them, but after even a day they won’t be at their best.
Comes From: Any temperature regions; strawberries like sunshine!
Seasonality: All year round is possible, but the best are grown in the summer months.
Modern strawberries can actually be any one of three groups of strawberries; there are everlasting or alpine ones, which have smaller fruits and can fruit all year under the right circumstances; and summer strawberries which break down into early and late.
The strawberry is actually an accessory fruit. The soft, usually delicious red fruit we eat is technically a vegetable - the small yellow pips around the outside of the fruit are the actual fruit or seeds. The strawberry is unique in that it has the seeds on the outside of the fruit. The garden or summer strawberry is a cross between two varieties of strawberry, one from Chile giving the fruit its flavour and one from North America giving good size.
Strawberry plants are quite distinctive, growing in a rosette from the centre outwards. The plants typically send out runners; these are small plantlets on extended stems, which will put down roots. This is also typically the way that strawberries are produced on a large scale.
Alpine or perpetual strawberries are slightly different; the fruits and plants are smaller, and they do not form runners. Another related variety, the Wild European strawberries are smaller still than the alpine strawberries, and in contrast, do make runners.
The name strawberry has two possible origins; the first is that it is derived from the Old English streawberige, a compound word of streaw meaning straw and berige meaning berry. The alternative is that the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon verb for "strew" (which means to spread around) which was streabergen, which gradually got altered over time to strawberry. The strew part may have come from the runners which appear strewn around the plant over the ground.
The garden or summer strawberry originated in Europe in 1712, and is an accidental cross between two varieties; one from eastern North America and one from Chile, combining the good flavour from one and the large size from another. They initially came from Massachusetts, North America, in the early 1600s, and finally reached the UK in the early 1800s; it was in England that the first cultivars were produced. These cultivars were mixed and developed in the UK; much of the development work has been done in Europe.
Alpine strawberries predate summer strawberries, and were originally native to regions of Europe, North of the Alps. Because of this, they were not known to the Ancient Greeks, although they are mentioned by the Romans, but probably only as growing wild and not cultivated. These smaller strawberries were recorded in England in the 13th century, and were highly redeemed and quite expensive. These varieties were not replaced with the larger summer strawberries until the 19th century.
Strawberries reached a peak in England in the 20th Century, unfortunately many people now agree they are on the decline. While people still list them as a firm favourite, recent developments in intensive cultivation is lowering the quality of fruit available; most strawberries available in the UK through supermarkets now are grown in sterilised soil in polytunnels; a hugely artificial method of growing. Excellent quality strawberries can still be gotten from many traditional fruit farms, now enjoying a renewed surge of popularity, and of course, they can be grown at home.
The obvious use of strawberries is culinary! They can be eaten on their own, with strawberries and cream, with ice-cream… pretty much any dessert, but that's not all. They can be baked (Baked Strawberry Apples is a favourite recipe), or eaten straight out of hand.
Strawberry leaves can be used as a substitute for tea, and also used to treat many other medicinal conditions including ulcers, heart disease, atherosclerosis, gallstones, gastritis, asthma, and insomnia. The plant is also known to have diuretic and antibiotic qualities.
Strawberries need good drainage to grow; they don't like being waterlogged. If they can't be planted in free draining ground, there are many alternatives; they take very well to growing in growbags, hanging baskets or strawberry pots, special containers usually with planting holes spaced at regular intervals around the sides, allowing the developing fruit to trail downwards and not rest on the soil.
They should be planted with plenty of organic material; either compost or manure. Plants should be planted out as early as possible in the year to give them plenty of time to get set in to develop fruit; but beware, they are susceptible to frost. If planting in rows, plants should be spaced about 12-24 inches apart, with the rows set 48 inches apart. The plants should be planted with the crowns of the plant at the surface of the soil; if they are too shallow, the roots will dry out too easily, and if they are too deep, the plants won't grow either.
Ideally in the first year, all of the flowers should be pinched out to allow the plants to grow stronger and produce a bigger crop the following year, but this is not strictly necessary. If they are left to crop, they should be harvested regularly when possible, to allow the plant to continue cropping. If not being grown raised off the ground, straw or black plastic should be put around the plants to keep the developing fruit off the ground. Some protection may be required from rodents, although birds are less of a problem.
Plants are usually propagated by runners; the plants will naturally send out little plantlets on long runners, which can be held down in soil by the use of wooden pegs or loops of wire or something similar, and they will then set down roots. These small plants can then be detached from the parent plant and will be genetically identical plants. Alpine strawberries will very often rapidly and quickly spread by seed.
Plants should be replaced after three to four years, otherwise yields will start to drop, and plants will become diseased.
- Homegrowing Strawberries
- Newcrop information on Strawberries
- Article on Growing Strawberries
- Strawberries on Wikipedia
- Designer Strawberries
There are lots of varieties of strawberries, and if you grow the right ones you can get them to crop practically throughout the year. Starting with early varieties such as Royal Sovereign, moving onto mid or late season varieties such as Honeoye, and then eventually onto alpine or perpetual varieties like Mara Des Bois.
This is a classic variety that used to be grown commercially, an early summer cropping type. It doesn't crop heavily (hence it's replacement by other varieties such as Elsanta.
A classic variety producing medium sized yields, Cambridge Favourite is a reliable cropper, and fantastically easy to grow.
Elsanta is one of the most well known varieties, probably because it's one of the few varieties you'll find in supermarkets these days. Why? It has excellent shelf life. When grown at home it has better flavour than bought from the supermarket.
A good variety for the home garden, Honeoye is a mid-season variety, with high yields and large berries.
Mara Des Bois
An excellent example of an alpine variety, this is a very popular variety in France, and can be found adorning French markets. It is very resistant to disease, particularly mildew, is easy to grow, and has fantastic flavour.