garden journal

The problem with growing strawberries

is that they seem to be the favourite fruit of EVERY animal in the entire world. If you grow them outside the birds have them and you have no strawberries. If you net them, the birds somehow manage to get through the net, get stuck and can’t get out, and then you have even less strawberries! And if you can somehow manage to stop the birds, then the bugs get them – something about that lovely shady foliage that encourages them.

strawberries in pot

So this year I was sure I had the answer with my strawberry pots. They keep the strawberries up off the ground, the birds have nowhere to perch to eat them, and they should be out of the way of the slimy ones.


slug snail damage to strawberries

So what’s eating the strawberries?

I have to confess that I am not 100% sure what is eating them – this looks like slug damage to me, but I can’t find any slugs whereas I have found several snails lurking again.

Sigh Looks as though I will be out with a torch big game hunting again


Like many in the UK, we have had our fair share of rain this year and, while this has been good for the land in some ways, it seems to have delayed cropping in lots of plants.

container grown strawberries


Our balcony grown strawberries are just beginning to ripen properly and we had our first feed last night. The apprentice loves hers with a little sugar to dip them into. And of course if we have cream available to go with them then that is a must:)

strawberries from  the balcony garden

As you can see, there is lots of fruit to come and I am just quietly hoping that it will all ripen before the autumn comes on too hard.

container grown strawberries


Click here to tell us your favourite way to eat strawberries


The balcony strawberries didn’t quite go according to plan this summer.  They grew well, produced lots of flowers, which developed into fruit, but none of the fruit really swelled and ripened properly.

On reflection I think that this was caused by a lack of water.  The growing pouches just didn’t seem to hold enough water in.  It didn’t matter how much I watered them, the compost was always dried out by the next time. 

The trailing system still seems to me like a great plan for strawberries -, but I think I need to come up with a better container for growing them in.  You can buy large tubs for strawberries with holes up the sides, but all the ones I have seen cost a lot of money, and if I can find something that will hang on the wall like the pouches, just with a larger soil mass, then I would rather do that.

At the moment I still haven’t come up with a solution to this problem, but it is one I shall be puzzling over as the winter progresses. 

The runner beans, on the other hand, did very well once the insects found them.  I am going to experiment with over-wintering the beans so I have cut back the top growth and covered over the bean roots with some straw to protect them in case we have any frost.  It will be interesting to see if they survive the winter and, if they do, how well they produce next yet 🙂

Well, our weather has turned nasty this week. We are trying to work out if it is the March winds and April showers come at last or the September gales come early! Either way it is unseasonal and not terribly nice.

The goats hate the rain and mud, and spend as much time indoors as they can when the weather is like this. I can’t say I blame them, but the plants don’t seem to mind too much, and all the plants on the balcony are growing on well.

The container radishes are coming along nicely and have their second leaves well developed now. The apprentice is counting the days until they have grown big enough to eat, that day is some way off yet, but it is about time we sowed some more seeds.

Radish seedlings

The sweet corn is up and very nearly ready to be planted out in the garden along with the squashes – it won’t be this weekend in this weather, so I have to hope they are OK for another week.

Sweet corn seedlings

The sugar snap peas are growing well and starting to look like proper little pea plants. I haven’t yet made their frame so that is a job for this week I think, along with finding some bamboo canes for the tomatoes – I’ve been putting that off as well for some reason.

Sugar snap peas

The runner beans have developed a problem. It’s not a huge surprise, but I had hoped it would be OK. There are no insects on my balcony to pollinate them 😦 This means I am going to have to hand polinate them, and probably the tomatoes as well. No chance of getting bored in this house – maybe I should re-name the blog “the runner bean dating agency” 🙂

We are now the proud new owners of a fig tree. The cause of this sudden new acquisition is my mother, who has decided that the fig has outgrown its spot in her border. The fig will have been moved before – my mother tends to garden with the same blatant disregard for the rules as I have been known to display on occasion, and will move shrubs and plants as she sees fit – seemingly never with any ill-effect 🙂

So she has passed ownership of the fig to us, we just have to go and dig it out 😦 and then dig a big enough hole to put it in!

On the upside, we will hopefully have some nice fresh figs in the future so I decided I had better remind myself what we need to provide for our latest charge.

Fig trees like the sun (not too much of a surprise there) and will need a fair amount of warmth to bring them to fruit outside. This isn’t TOO much of an issue for us as, being in the south, we don’t get too cold. Figs also need shelter from too much wind which might be a little more of an issue. So really the fig tree needs a nice sheltered place in good sun.

The most successful way of growing them out of doors, is to grow them as a fan against a wall. They can be grown as a bush, but only in mild areas. I don’t think I have anywhere to train them as a fan, so I think it is going to have to be a bush.

Figs are an oddity. In order for them to fruit properly, you need to restrict their growth but penning in their roots. You can do this either by keeping them in a large pot, or by planting them in a stone-lined pit about 2ftx2ftx2ft. This should restrict the roots enough that the tree will fruit.

The fig tree needs a lot of water during dry spells (especially this first year when I am transplanting it in June!). Restricting the roots to bring the tree into fruit takes away some of its ability to find water for itself, so we need to make sure that it has enough.

Figs need a good feed in the spring but I willl probably mulch it well with muck when I plant it as well, just to get it off to a good start.

I think this is a job for the weekend, as the pit is going to take me a while to get right, and digging the plant out of my mother’s border is going to take more than a little time. It is tempting to go and lift the plant, and put it in a container for now and dig the pit later.

But, as I dig, I can be thinking of the joys of lovely fresh figs in a couple of years 🙂

I think it’s time for a little update on the balcony project as a whole, and some pictures of how some of the plants are progressing 🙂

The cherry tomatoesare flourishing. They are growing well, looking very healthy, and we have had just a hint of some flowers starting 🙂

container grown tomatoes

The strawberries growing in pouches have also settled in well and are now growing well. A couple of flower buds are developing, but are taking a lot longer to turn into actual flowers than usual (unless it is just that I don’t normally stand and look at my strawberry flowers every day LOL). The tomato in the top of one of the pouches has firmly established itself. I planted it in the top of the pouch and then, having second thoughts, decided to take it out and give it a pot of it’s own. Unfortunately the tomato had other ideas and refused to budge, so that pouch is going to need extra careful watering and feeding.

In the bottom corner you can see the runner beans growing up their wigwam.

Balcony vegetables

The runner beansare growing well up the wigwam now and are flowering. Unfortunately the second pot of runners, which was attacked by snails, didn’t survive. After the initial snail attack, the beans tried to grow again, but the snails revisited and finished them off. I now have French beans starting on the windowsill to replace them, so I will have one wigwam of runner beans, and one of French beans 🙂

container grown runner beans

The radishes sown in a tray are now through, so it is nearly time to sow some more to have a succession to pick

Radish seedlings

The cut and come again salads are all through except the watercress, so we have mizuna, red leaves, and rocket coming on. I gave in and sowed 4 little gem lettuces in cells, and have said we will sow a couple every week or so. The apprentice loves little gems, so it is a good plant, but I have no idea where we are going to grow them – time for a little creativity I think 😉

We also have pumpkins and squashes nearly ready for planting out, sweet corn just showing through and sugar snap peas showing.

Pumpkin plants

Sugar snap peas

Everything had a good feed of tomato food over the weekend and, apart from the pouches which didn’t catch any, everything has benefitted from some rain today 🙂

So, all is well in my little patch of domestic jungle

The runner bean (Phaseolus Coccineus) is a relative newcomer to the UK. As a native of the high altitude (and cooler) parts of South America, where it has been used as a food crop for over 2000 years, it was brought across to Britain in the 17th century.

When the runner bean first arrived in Britain, it was grown exclusively as a decorative plant for it’s stunning displays of red flowers.

In Mexico, the starchy roots are used in cooking in addition to the pods, although it is said this side of the water that the roots are poisonous. Maybe the Mexicans have a special way of preparing them. If anyone knows the answer to this one, feel free to add a comment.

The pods of runner beans can be left to mature, and then shelled like peas to remove the bean seeds from the pod. The seeds are then dried for storage and are used for adding to stews etc in the same way as kidney beans, haricot beans etc.

When we talk about “green beans” we are referring, not to the colour of the pods, but to the practice of eating the runner bean pods before the bean seeds inside are fully ripened.

Four varieties of bean were brought to the UK in 1633. Two of these “Painted Lady” and “Scarlet Runner” are still amonst the most popular varieties grown today.

Although the bean is grown as an annual, it is by nature a perennial, and it is possible to overwinter the root tubers, and plant them out the following spring. I have to confess I have never done this, but it might be worth an experiment 🙂

In America it was grown as part of the “3 sisters” of beans, corn and squash. The corn was grown on a mound, with the beans grown alongside where they would grow up the corn like a trellis. The squash plants were planted amongst the corn and beans. These three plants appear to complement each other and each adds something to the partnership.

Grow runner beans in cotton wool with the kids

Start your runner beans in recycled newspaper pots

Pest damage to pot grown runner beans

Add your comments on runner beans

Next Page »