Strawberries

My grandson — aged 14 months — once discovered the strawberry patch. He would race out there at every opportunity, stuffing as many ripe juicy strawberries into his mouth as he possibly could. Luckily for him, strawberries are quite easy to grow and using natural methods gives them a distinctive full flavour and firm texture. The most important aspect of strawberry growing is thorough fertilisation of the soil at least four to five months before planting out the young runners. Add nitrogen in the form of chicken manure, or chicken pellets. Alternatively, a green manure crop of field peas can be turned into the soil. Rock phosphate should also be raked in, together with wood-ash

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or charcoal to supply necessary potassium. Compost, that wonderful, natural, all purpose fertiliser, should also be incorporated into the soil. Use as much as you can spare.

Select runners of the strawberry variety that grows well in your own area. They can be planted out from mid-March to mid-April and will begin bearing in late July, finishing in mid-December. Silver plastic sheeting should be laid over the prepared beds and pricked every 15 cm with a garden fork to allow for water penetration. This type of sheeting deters fruit fly and keeps the fruit clean and dry. Alternatively, a thick straw mulch can be placed around the young plants.

Irrigation can be either by drip irrigation, installed under the plastic, or by overhead or direct watering. The young runners will need daily watering until they're well established.

You can control diseases like powdery mildew by spraying a solution of potassium permanganate (Condy's Crystals) at the rate of 30 g per nine litres of water. Leaf spot, leaf scorch and leaf blight can be treated with copper oxychloride. Red spider mite and two spotted mite can also be controlled with a weak solution of potassium permanganate. Seaweed extract used as a foliar spray will help control all mildews and fungus diseases. It will also supply necessary trace minerals and keep the strawberries in optimum health.

Rosellas

In the past it was common practice for many people to grow rosellas in the garden because the berries make a cheap, delicious jam. Rosellas are a relative of the hibiscus family and have been grown for many years in the tropics and sub-tropics.

They require a medium rich soil and seed or seedlings can be planted from August to December. Plant them in rows 150 cm apart, spacing the plants 60 cm apart. Rosellas thrive in a sunny position and are resistant to most diseases although leaf-eating insects relish them. Even with some leaf damage they will still produce an acceptable crop. Rosella flowers should be harvested by clipping them off the stem using secateurs.

Rosella jam recipe

Rosella jam is not made commercially so I have included the following 90 year old recipe. It's absolutely infallible.

Strip the outer petals and set aside the inner berry. Cover the berries with water and add the juice of two lemons. Simmer this mixture for approximately one hour, cool, then strain the liquid from the berries which are then discarded.

Add the outer petals to the remaining liquid and cook them until they're soft and 'mushy'. Measure the mixture and add the same quantity of sugar. Stir this until the sugar has dissolved then boil the mixture quickly for ten to 15 minutes to obtain a setting consistency. Pour it into warm clean jars and seal.

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