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Protecting your strawberries, naturally

Strawberries must surely be one of the most beloved of fruits. Delicious heart- shaped pockets of sweet pinky-red juiciness… Yum! Like little exposed hearts, they are also very fragile, and as inviting to every passing insect as they are to us. It is still certainly worth the effort of growing them yourself though. Apart from their beauty and the sheer joy of picking one fresh from the garden, shop-bought strawberries are one of the most pesticide-laden foods you can find. In 2011 the US Environmental Working Group [1] named them the third most important crop to avoid eating because of heavy pesticide residues. (They came fourth in 2015.) Some of the strawberries tested carried residues of as many as 13 different kinds of pesticide. As well as the residues on the fruit, the soil they are grown in is often contaminated with fumigants to get rid of “pests” before the crops are even planted. But, as I found out when I planted two healthy young strawberry plants recently, leaving the fruits unprotected means they will surely be munched by other visitors to your garden before you have even had the pleasure of watching them ripen. Snails, worms, insects of all kinds, birds, small mammals…well, who doesn’t love a strawberry?

strawberries with Artemesia

Strawberries with Artemesia


Sprinkling broken eggshells [2] around the plants does help to deter slugs and snails, but the allure of strawberries is often just too great. Traditionally, the plants were packed around with straw to lift the delicate fruits off the soil where many would-be munchers live. (Hence the name, strawberries.) But the straw itself often becomes a hideout for raiders. What to do?

My friend Margot, at Back Area Gardens [3] where I got my two lovely plants, had some advice. She suggested packing fronds of Artemesia (wormwood) around the plants instead of straw. This makes excellent sense. I was already familiar with the potent insect repelling properties of Atremesia, which I use as a major ingredient in The Apothecary [4]‘s insect repellent spray. And the silky soft leaves of the plant make a perfect bed for the fragile berries. Instead of trading one problem (pests) for a worse one (poisonous sprays), the natural answer is, as so often, a win win solution!

strawberries in pot

Strawberries


P.S. to keep birds and bigger animals (such as my dog, who loves eating any fruit or vegetable I grow) off your strawberries, it may be worth putting up a chickenwire barrier. And if the snails are not put off by wormwood, you can set some beer traps for them. Set a shallow saucer (I use a mussel shell) of beer near the plants – slugs and snails can’t resist climbing in for a drink and drowning. At least it’s a happy death for them.

P.P.S. Added 09/10/2015:

The problems with pesticides are wide-ranging and much has been written on them. You could start by reading this [5] for an overview of the issues, or look into this [6] for an in-depth review of pesticides in South Africa.

If you do buy non-organic produce, remember to wash off any surface pesticide residues. You’ll need more than plain water to shift them; have a look at my suggestions for cheap and effective fruit and vegetable washes here [7].