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Strawberries like plenty of water, at least an inch a week.

Gardening with Jack: Strawberries

By now our home garden should be more or less established with our favourite vegetables. The yard is tidy because we made special efforts for the Christmas season and the grass is behaving itself by growing very slowly. Now is the time to attend to our fruit trees and ensure they have all the sustenance to give us lots of mangoes, pears, dillies, grumichama, Barbados cherries, starfuits, longans, lychees, akee and citrus later on in the year.

All fruit trees should be fed each season – winter, spring, summer and fall – in a process with three steps. First apply a chelated iron drench of Sequestrene 138 to the base of the tree mixing the iron according to packet instructions and applying as much as the tree needs according to age and size. Then apply fruit and citrus fertilizer – or hammer in fertilizer spikes – around the drip line of each tree. Finally give the complete foliage a minor nutrient spray using a hose-end sprayer with a good throw in order to reach the top leaves.

While we are tree intensive we should inspect our flowering shrubs closely and look for signs of scale insect predation. Scale insects look like small raised bumps on branches, usually grey or brown. Use a squeeze bottle sprayer and mix water and dormant oil according to instructions for small areas of contamination and do the spraying on a cool, cloudy day. The process should be repeated 3 weeks later.

If the scale insect area of contamination is extensive we will have to resort to a systemic insecticide, one that poisons the whole plant so the scale insects die while sucking the sap. Some types of systemic insecticide can be sprayed onto plants while others are applied as a drench. The latter is the easiest to apply. Remember this systemic insecticide process is only for flowering and ornamental trees and shrubs. Fruit trees should only be treated by using dormant oil because a systemic insecticide will poison the fruits.

While we are enjoying our tomatoes, peppers and salad makings from the garden we may hanker for something sweet in winter when most of our fruit trees are unproductive. Strawberries might be the answer. Unfortunately strawberry plants are quite expensive because we have to import them from Florida but once we have a few plants established we can have strawberries –and plenty of them – for years.

Strawberry plants demand acid soil so we should grow therm in containers with good quality potting mix, preferably one with vermiculite to help retain moisture. Strawberries like plenty of water, at least an inch a week. We should use Miracle-Gro Miracid as our main fertilizer in order to satisfy the plant’s need for acid conditions and apply it as a spray every week.

Strawberries are so called because in Europe they were covered with straw to prevent damage from frost and then the straw was placed around the plants in order to keep the fruits from touching the ground. We can use plastic mulch sheeting because straw is hard to find in Abaco.

While producing fruit the strawberry plants will send out runners and establish small daughter plants. Look after these very carefully for they are next year’s crop. Pin the daughter plants to the ground to help them root using a straightened paper clip bent once.

Strawberry plants will live for years but are most productive in the first two or three years. By this time, of course, all the daughter plants will be producing fruit and you will have too many strawberries. What a lovely thought…

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