Few foods evoke the best of a British summer like the strawberry. Ripeness is key. When strawberries are red, mature, and at their nutritional peak, all the naturally occurring chemicals that contribute to their marvellous flavour and aroma – furanones, aldehydes, alcohols, sulphur compounds, phenols, flavonols, esters, terpenes – reach their most potent.
Here is our expert guide on the British strawberry growing season, including advice on how to grow your own, varieties and the best places to ‘pick your own’ strawberries.
British strawberries over imports
Ripe berries are fragile and have a short shelf-life, so growers tend to supply supermarkets with slightly under-ripe fruits to avoid returns and rejections. This is particularly true of strawberries imported from Europe and further afield, which are picked ‘green and backward’ to withstand the journey. British-grown supermarket berries are generally riper than imports because they have less distance to travel.
What are the best strawberry plants?
The old guard here includes British heritage varieties renowned for their eating quality, such as Royal Sovereign, Hapil, Cambridge Favourite, Cambridge Vigour and Cambridge Late Pine.
Commercial growers rarely choose them because, when grown on a large scale, they are prone to disease. Instead they are concentrating on newer varieties, such as Alice, Symphony, Florence, Sonata, Alice, Eros, Honeyoye and Pegasus, which have more flavour than Elsanta, but better disease-resistance than traditional varieties.
Whatever their variety, strawberries taste better during their natural growing season. In the UK and Ireland, that’s a six-week to two-month period, between late May and the end of July. Growers have developed techniques to extend this short season, growing strawberries under plastic tunnels and drip-feeding them nutrients.
‘Pick your own’ strawberry farms to visit
If you can find a Pick Your Own fruit farm, then you can personally select the ripest. Go for fruits that are vivid red through and through without any white or green ‘shoulders’ under the stem.
Why not complete your own British summer with a bowl of freshly handpicked strawberries by taking a trip to one of these pick-your-own (PYO) farms.
Pick your own strawberries at one of the UK’s farms. (Getty)
The Balloon Tree, York
This family run farm in York has been growing soft fruit for 20 years. The Balloon Tree also has a café, a well-stocked farm shop and a variety of seasonal outdoor activities. Farm tours and an animal corner are also on offer, making it a fun day out for families. Located on the ‘way of the roses’ cycle route and a stones throw away from the historic Stamford Bridge, you won’t be short of things to do with a visit to this farm. www.theballoontree.co.uk
Willows Farm, Lincolnshire
Open seven days a week, Willows Farm in Lincolnshire offers several different varieties of strawberries and many other seasonal fruits. You can even stay on the farm, with camping and caravan facilities available in a peaceful secluded location. Willows farm is only a 20-minute drive from many seaside attractions, including the coastal town of Skegness. www.willowsfarm.co.uk
Primrose Vale, Gloucestershire
Picking season is now well underway at Primrose farm in Gloucestershire, but with PYO fields open until October, there is still plenty of time to fill your punnets. Strawberries are grown in a convenient ‘table top’ style, so it couldn’t be easier to get fresh fruit this summer. Primrose Vale strawberries can also be found at Cheltenham farmers market along with other local produce. www.primrosevale.com
McLauchlans of Boxted, Essex
This Essex farm offers nine different strawberry varieties, so you can be sure to find your favourite. Staff members are on-hand to offer advice on the day’s best crop or direct you to the best variety suited to your needs. There are many family and foodie activities nearby, from garden centres to good old country pubs. www.boxtedberries.com
Manor Farm Fruits, Staffordshire
One of the longest established farms of the area, Manor farm in Staffordshire comprises 125 acres and is situated near the picturesque village of Hints. Celebrating 40 years of pick-your-own, these juicy strawberries are not to be missed. To really take in the scenery at this farm, many customers bring their own picnic to enjoy in the farm’s grassy paddock. www.manorfarmfruits.co.uk
Hendrewennol, South Wales
This Welsh PYO farm has been running since 1978 and strawberries make up the bumper crop. Only half an hour from Cardiff’s city centre, families can expect a busy day out with attractions for all ages. You can even try some of their freshly made strawberry jam. www.hendrewennol.com
Goodall’s strawberries, Hampshire
Don’t be put off by rain this summer; Goodall’s strawberries are grown in outdoor polytunnels, so you go picking whatever the weather. Now growing eight varieties of strawberry, Goodall has been able to extend the summer picking season. Situated next to the bustling seaside town of Lymington there is ample to do nearby, from golf, sailing and even a trip to the Isle of Wight. www.goodallsstrawberries.co.uk
How to grow strawberries
Strawberries are easy and fun to grow. Even the smallest garden or balcony can be used to grow plants.
Plant strawberries for delicious summer fruit. (Getty)
- Prepare your ground by adding compost. Dig this into the soil to add nutrients.
- Measure out your holes and dig approx. 10cm depth and leave approx. 30cm between plants. You can either plant from seed or use a young seedling plant. These can be bought cheaply from most garden centres or local plant shop.
- Plant your strawberries and water well. They will need regular watering during growing season or in dry spells.