LESS IS MORE: Growing organic strawberries

PESTICIDE-FREE: Home-grown organic strawberries are easy to grow, and they taste delicious.  Picture: Tricia Hogbin
PESTICIDE-FREE: Home-grown organic strawberries are easy to grow, and they taste delicious. Picture: Tricia Hogbin

MY strawberry patch is bursting with sweet berries. I started last year with only 10 plants. I collected plantlets from those few founders and now have more than 100 plants. Next year I’m aiming for 1000. If you manage your strawberry plants properly, you can enjoy homegrown berries forever, without having to buy new plants every few years. 

Strawberry season is especially exciting in our household because I don’t buy strawberries. Conventionally grown strawberries are typically laden with pesticide residues. A 2008 study by CHOICE found pesticide residues in almost all the conventionally grown strawberries they tested. Anyone who has grown their own strawberries will know how susceptible they are to pests and fungal disease. Non-organic growers use a suite of pesticides to control these pests, making strawberries more likely to be contaminated than other fresh fruit. Washing your fruit isn’t the answer. Some pesticides are formulated to resist being washed off by rain and others penetrate right through the fruit. 

Thankfully, for those of you who prefer your fruit to be free of pesticides, strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in your backyard. 

Here are my tips for growing organic strawberries. 

Choose the right location 

Choose a sunny spot for your patch to minimise the chance of fungal disease spoiling your fruit. 

Build up your soil before planting

Large amounts of organic matter are vital for healthy and resilient strawberry plants. Prepare your soil in autumn, ready for late autumn or early winter plantings. I dug in horse manure, worm castings and compost at a rate of around one bucket per square metre. 

Give plants plenty of space 

Good air flow around plants will minimise the chance of fruit rotting. Space plants at least 30centimetres apart. Strawberry crowns will rot if buried, so make sure you leave the crown of each plant above the soil surface when planting. 

Mulch heavily and fertilise regularly

Mulch your patch heavily to minimise weeds, retain water and keep soil cool. The mulch will also help to keep your fruit clean. Fertilise regularly with worm wee or liquid seaweed fertiliser. Stop fertilising as soon as the plants start fruiting to avoid seaweed-infused fruit. 

Find a variety suitable for your area

The taste and resilience of strawberry plants varies between varieties. Trial a few varieties to find what grows best in your garden. Ipurchased two varieties and collected healthy runners from a neighbour’s thriving strawberry patch. The local plants performed far better than the purchased varieties. 

Treat them like an annual 

Strawberries are short-lived perennials and are most productive and healthy in their first year. I replant a new patch each year. Over summer, strawberry plants send out long horizontal stems called runners. Tiny plantlets form along these runners. I push aside mulch below each plantlet and anchor it in place by placing stones or soil along the runners. I collect these plantlets in late autumn, cutting the runners that connect them to their parent, and move them to the new patch.

Practice crop rotation

Strawberries are highly susceptible to soil-borne diseases. When choosing the location of a new patch, avoid areas that have grown other berries or members of the tomato family (Solanaceae) in previous years. 

Give them plenty of water

Strawberry plants like plenty of water, especially when they are flowering and fruiting. However, leaves and fruit can rot if too wet. I water in the morning and water deeply less often. 

Tricia Hogbin shares tips for living better with less at littleecofootprints.com and onInstagram (TriciaEco).