Summer recipe - Strawberries and Rhubarb Growing Tips
Seasonal growing tips from Le Manoir's head gardener, Jonathan Keyte
Delicious ripe strawberries
Strawberries are the first fruit of the year's delicious harvest and one of the easiest, most rewarding plants to grow by an aspiring gardener. You simply can't go wrong as plants are relatively cheap and quick to come into cropping.
It is essential to select good looking, healthy plants with clean fibrous roots, approximately 20cm long. The plants should also have a firm crown - the part of the plant at the top of the roots from which the leaves grow out. The best time to plant strawberries is late summer as this allows the plants to establish roots and settle in before the winter.
When planting, keep the crown at the soil level; planting too deep will stunt or even kill the plants.
In the first year after planting keep a vigilant eye on the runners. Remove them as they form – this will direct the plant's energy into growing and fruiting, rather than spreading over the bed.
As the fruit start to ripen, place straw under the berries tucking it neatly under lifted shoots and leaves. This will prevent the fruit from getting in contact with the soil and becoming dirty or wet.
To ensure a continuous supply of fruit, start thinking about planting a new strawberry patch in the 2nd /3rd year – their vigour will deteriorate from then on. If you fancy propagating your own plants, allow the runners to develop. They can be lifted in late summer and replanted to produce a new strawberry patch.
Rhubarb ready to pick
Rhubarb, the traditional ingredient of many puddings and one of the first treats of the season, is coming back into fashion. And it is relatively easy to grow if you follow a few simple rules.
The best way to buy rhubarb for growing is as sets in late winter. A set is a division from the mother plant. Each division must have a strong red bud from which the stems will grow in the spring.
Rhubarb is a perennial plant, therefore the ground in which it will grow needs to be enriched in organic matter (manure or garden compost) prior to planting. It will thrive in a sunny and well- drained position in the garden. Take your time selecting the site – a healthy plant will reward you not only with delicious yields but also with its striking looks!
Resist the temptation to harvest rhubarb in its first year as this will reduce its vigour. In the second year, only take half of the sticks, leaving the rest to feed the plant and to help its establishment.
Rhubarb forcing pots
Harvesting the sticks takes some practicing. Select a stem at least 30cm long and pull it by sliding your thumb down towards the crown, separating the stem from the crown. Stop harvesting in late summer as the plant needs the leaves to recover and to build up reserves for next year.
Rhubarb needs a certain level of cold to wake it up from its winter dormancy. If the winter proves to be mild, rake back any leaves to remove any excess insulation and to expose the crown to the cold winter temperatures.
For earlier crops, try forcing. When the stems start to emerge in spring, cover the crown with a special terracotta forcing jar or an upturned bucket. By excluding light, you will gain tender, blanched stems – they are the most sought after!
To ensure a steady supply of stems, you will need to rejuvenate the plant every 5-6 years. This is done by lifting the plant in the winter and dividing the crown into 2 –3 sections (sets), each of them with a viable bud.