I love strawberries. But only fresh picked and in season, when they’re absolutely bursting with juice and flavour. Not only are they at their most pleasing on the mouth, they’re also the perfect additive to a fine vodka*.
The problem is, strawberries need space (albeit not much), and space is at a premium in my garden. I’ve tried growing a few plants in the gaps among the herbs, but they’ve not done brilliantly well. So I looked at getting a strawberry planter, a particular kind of pot for growing strawberries vertically. The problem is, anything half-decent (in size and appearance) is expensive. And I’d rather save the money for a good vodka to infuse with the strawberries.
So I had a quick think about it, hit Google, and found a pretty elegant solution that was along the same lines as what I was already contemplating. The best part is it cost me less than six quid. Simply get three terracotta pots of different sizes, fill with compost, and stack them up. Sink each smaller pot just under halfway into the soil in the larger pot and you’re good to go. I’ve used 33, 23 and 15cm pots, with 4 plants in the biggest, 2 in the middle and 1 on top. With a heavy-cropping variety, these will be all I need to indulge my taste buds and liver.
At the moment, I’m growing Elsanta. This has got a bad reputation as the bland and ubiquitous supermarket variety but, grown with some TLC, it produces large amounts of luscious medium-sized berries that are loaded with taste. Next year, I may well try a more unusual variety, or even add a few ‘perpetual’ types that produce small but continuous crops from mid-summer until the first frosts. Seasonal strawberries in November? Yes please! I can’t think of a better way of ignoring the impending winter months than stuffing my face with straight-off-the-bush summer fruit.
And once you’ve got a few plants established, you’ll never have to buy any more. Apart from giving you fruit for a good few seasons, strawberry plants send out runners every year with new baby plants on (you can see them hanging over the edge of the pot in the picture). These will self-root once they come into contact with soil, a process you can help by using a u-shaped loop of wire to pin the runners in place. Once the plantlets have rooted, you can cut the runner from the parent plant and pot the baby up elsewhere. Care for it properly and it will be ready to replace its parent next year.
*Fruit vodka: simply fill an empty vodka bottle about one-third full with ripe strawberries or other berry-like fruit, add 2-4 ounces of sugar depending on the natural sweetness of the fruit, top up with vodka, give a good shake and keep in a cool, dark place. Shake vigourously every day for a couple of weeks, then shake every week or two for as many months as you can bear, but at least three. When it’s ready, strain it through muslin or similar fine cloth and put into a clean bottle. If you can resist the temptation to drink at least some of it, place it back in the cool, dark place and try and forget about it. If you can wait until Christmas, you’ll be well-rewarded.
Particularly good fruits for this include blackberry, raspberry, any of the currants, and sloes. Sloes should be picked after the first frost if you’re in the northern hemisphere, as this is when they’re at their ripest. Sloes are very sour, so use plenty of sugar for the best flavour. And prick them with a fork first to allow the vodka to really bring out their fulsome twang.
I’ve just made a batch of blueberry vodka (yeah, I know, imported produce is bad, but these were only shipped from Germany, are a rare treat and were on the discounted sell-by shelf in the supermarket for only 30p!). It’s already taken on a deep purple hue and should be stunning come the winter solstice. That’s just given me a thought – cranberries, like sloes, are also sour and cranberry drink makes a fine vodka mixer. I think a bottle of cranberry-infused vodka could very soon be on the cards.