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Q. Have you any tips on simple, basic maintenance of strawberries?
A. Strawberry care does involve a fair amount of work. The trick is to calculate realistically the harvest size you desire, and weigh that against the amount of care you are able to give the planting.
Last year I reduced my own strawberry plot by half, and plan to cut it back further this month, to create a rectangular bed just 120 cm wide, so that I can easily reach into the middle from both sides.
Pulling or digging out some of the oldest plants each year, when picking has finished, helps to keep a planting uncrowded and productive. Feel the “necks” at the bases of the plants. The thickest will be the oldest.
Mulching lightly around the plants post-harvest using a nourishing compost, and keeping the plot adequately watered for the rest of the summer, also help to set the planting up for a good next year’s harvest of berries. In May, I tuck tufts of clean straw around the plants, to ensure the berries, as they enlarge and ripen, rest on the dry straw rather than on the soil.
Q. I grew broad beans for the first time this year. The plants have done well and have produced large pods that feel firm enough to pick for the beans inside. If you grow broad beans, how do you prepare them?
A. The firm feel to the pods usually suggests the beans inside have sized up to harvesting size. Freshly picked broad beans cook quickly. My favourite and simplest way to prepare broad beans (fava beans) is to steam them tender, roll them in butter and dust with freshly grated salt.
At least once each broad bean season, I combine freshly steamed favas with a blend of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and crushed garlic. Optional additions are red or orange pepper strips, thinly sliced onion, and hard-boiled egg.
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