Thursday, July 28, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever …

mara des bois strawberries
Wild alpine strawberries have a concentrated burst of aromatic flavour yet are frustratingly tiny.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could get that same intense taste in a full-sized strawberry?  Apparently you can, with a French perpetual variety called Mara des Bois.

Strawberry beds need moving and replanting every three years as plants become diseased and yields reduce.  Fresh plants from a disease-free source should be planted in a new bed.  As I didn’t get my plants until this spring I have been very disciplined, removing the flowers so the plants use all their energy to establish their root systems before they go for gold and give us their delicious berries next year.  (If you plant in the autumn then you don’t need to do this as the plant has already established itself over the winter and spring before fruiting begins.)

borage towering over strawberry plants
I am interested in companion planting but I like to really understand why something works.  Many sources quote, time and again, that borage is a great companion for strawberries.  But, when I tried to dig a little deeper and find out why this should be so, the evidence is thin on the ground.  I’m suspicious that people are repeating each other endlessly, rather than writing from a position of real knowledge, a bit like the bunkum about throwing away mussels that refuse to open after cooking.  Beware the unsubstantiated ‘truth’!

Despite my growing doubts, I went ahead and planted some borage on the edge of the new strawberry bed.  It’s a great plant, the bees love it and the flowers are both beautiful and edible.  The problem with borage as a companion for strawberries is that it is a big sprawling plant and very quickly totally overwhelmed my new strawberry plants so I took out the all but one.  (The bees still benefit from other borage plants elsewhere in the garden.)
If you know why borage is a good companion plant for strawberries and how they should be planted to benefit rather than overwhelm, please post a comment.

strawberry between a rock and a hard place
And to something that does work: for the last few years I have used a neat little trick that I learnt from Sepp Holzer (The Rebel Farmer  and Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture). He observed that the strawberries that did best for him were sited near to rocks and he worked out that the rocks acted like storage heaters for the tender plants.  I found some flat black stones and tucked them around the plants and it seems to benefit the production and ripening of fruits.

We must be patient to see how my strawberry bed performs next summer.  Mara des Bois are resistant to flowery mildew and are perpetual (fruiting from May until first frosts) yielding up to 1kg per plant. I have high hopes for the flavour and the yield from my fifteen plants. Plenty enough fruit for topping our morning muesli, making jam, ice cream and pies and Stuart’s favourite: macerating fresh strawbs in Cointreau and sugar. Delicious!