New fruit cage for strawberries and raspberries

Although we have grown strawberries and raspberries over the years we have not had any decent plants for some time now.  After 25 years the old raspberry canes have become exhausted and the strawberries have just faded away.  In addition the birds always seem to get to the fruit first!

As a lockdown project we have therefore decided to set ourselves up in style; clearing a previously unused part of the garden, building a new walk in fruit cage and buying in a fresh set of plants.

Having cleared a sunny area at the edge of the orchard of brambles and weeds we have invested in a 5 x 2.5 metre walk-in fruit cage from Harrod Horticulture.   The orchard is a very attractive part of the garden and the location for my daughter’s wedding next year so we felt it appropriate to go for something that had a little more style and be an interesting feature.  We therefore went for the peak roofed steel fruit cage.

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Once the ground was dug over constructing the fruit cage was quite straight forward.   It took us (2 people) four days in total to put up.  You certainly could not have done the job alone.  Putting up the peaked roof required one person up a ladder to hold the roof in place whilst the other bolted it together.  My tall Niwaki Japanese Tripod ladder was invaluable.   The instructions were all very clear and we had no problem with these.  It did however take us a whole day to put up the netting and sow it tightly together so that there we no gaps.  I think (and hope) it was worth taking the time to do this very carefully to ensure no birds will be able to access our precious fruit.

Whilst we were constructing the fruit cage we ordered a number of cold-stored strawberry plants from Ken Muir.  I have to say that I was very impressed with the quality of the plants we received.  We were not quite ready to plant them out when they came so potted them up into compost first before they were put out.  Every single plant has grown away beautifully so no complaints here at all.  In addition to the plants you get a comprehensive and informative 46-page guide on how to grow strawberries effectively.

Cold-stored plants are runners that were dug in January and kept in cold storage until required for sale.  If planted out before July they should crop in the first year.  We have gone for three varieties (early, mid-summer and late summer) that will allow us to crop over an extended period.  The varieties we have chosen are Vibrant (Early), Hapil (mid-summer) and Fenella (Late summer).

The ground we have used has been uncultivated for some years and although we have tried to remove all the perennial weeds and bramble roots I am sure we are going to be troubled with annual weeds for sometime.  We have therefore decided to grow the strawberries through black weed suppressing membrane cutting individual circular holes for each plant.  Hopefully this will mean we don’t have to use straw either to keep our fruit clean.

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Half of the fruit cage has been put down to the 36 strawberry plants (12 of each variety).  The other half will be put down to raspberries which we will buy and plant later in the year.  Rather than just leave this half fallow we have planted corgettes and sweet corn purely to make use of the space and cultivate the ground to reduce the annual weeds ready for autumn raspberry cane planting.

Every day now I go out and look at how the strawberries are progressing.  The plants look very good and the early variety is now flowering (11 June).  Very soon I hope the berries will start to form and ripen. How exciting!

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