Guide to Growing Herbaceous Fruit
Physalis peruviana Solanaceae
This is an unusual choice of fruit, but one I have grown successfully many times. It makes a useful addition to the limited number of half-hardy fruit crops, being easy to grow annually from seed or maintain as a greenhouse perennial. The small orange cherry fruits are encased in papery calyx like those of its ornamental relative, the Chinese lantern, P. alkekengi.
Sowing: start six weeks before you intend to plant out. Although if growing in a greenhouse with a minimum temperature of 7°C (45°F), you can plant out four to six weeks earlier. Sow two seeds to each 9cm (3-1/2in) pot of-based and pull out the weaker seedling if both germinate.
Planting: when growing outdoors, prepare a well-manured bed and rake in a general fertilizer one week before planting, then plant out after the last frost, putting cloches over the voting plants at first. In the greenhouse, plant in growing bags or 20cm (8in) diameter pots of John Innes No 2 Potting Compost. Spacing: 45cm (1-1/2ft).
Care: insert a stout cane close to each plant and tie-in as the plant grows. Pinch out growing tips when the plants reach 45cm (1-1/2ft); no need to remove side shoots. Keep compost or soil moist and apply a tomato feed weekly after the first fruit has set.
Problems: aphids, whitefly.
Harvesting: pick when the calyx becomes very papery and the fruit inside is a rich colour.
Storing: will keep for several weeks and may be eaten fresh by peeling back the calyx, or made into jam.
Varieties: no named varieties
Fragaria x ananassa Rosaceae
This remains a great favourite even though commercially grown fruit has little taste. The varieties with the finest flavour tend to crop for only a short time, although the most recent developments have been with ‘everlasting’ and annual ‘day-neutral’ varieties that crop for longer. Strawberries are best treated like vegetables, for their cultivation and habit is quite different from that of other soft fruit.
They are not long-term plants: three or four years is the effective productive life of many varieties and some are better grown asor . They also take up a considerable area, with 25-30m2 (80-100ft2) a typical bed: remember that, as with vegetables, you must rotate the plot so you will need to devote two or three times this area to strawberries at some time. The soil should be prepared as for a vegetable crop but protection from birds is essential and best provided by wire netting covers or conventional cloches, which have the added advantage of encouraging earlier ripening. Strawberries can be grown in containers in John Innes No.2 Potting Compost, but it is a fiddly task and yields are low.
Planting: start with certified virus-free plants. Pot-grown plants in bio-degradable pots establish best when planted from midsummer to autumn. Bare-rooted runners are cheaper and freshly lifted plants should be planted from late autumn to early spring, cold-stored ones in spring or late summer.
Spacing: 30-45cm (1 – 1-1/2ft) between plants, 70-90cm (2-1/4 – 3ft) between rows.
Care: feed in early spring with potash. As the fruit starts to swell,well then tuck straw between the soil and fruit to keep the fruit clean (or lay down black plastic sheeting before planting). Cut off the runners as they grow. Cut off old foliage after harvesting the fruit and clear away the straw.
Problems: aphids, birds, grey mould, iron deficiency, leaf spot, powdery mildew, red spider mite, slugs, strawberry beetle, strawberry mite, virus, weevil.
Harvesting: pick complete with the calyx when uniformly red.
Storing: best eaten fresh within a few hours of picking, or used for jam. Freezing alters shape, texture and flavour so frozen fruit is best used for cooking.
Varieties: ‘Aromel’, autumn, easily the best ‘perpetual’ strawberry; ‘Cambridge Favourite’, mid-season, the best all-round variety; ‘Pegasus’, late.