Last year, I purchased a replica Victorian strawberry barrel. While you can grow strawberries any number of ways and can make your own barrel, I wanted to place this beside the patio we live on in the summer months, so wanted to experiment with this one. It was a bit of a punt, because I could find few people online who had used one, and the reviews I read were mixed: a lot of people had had limited success with them. It looks quite flimsy when you assemble it, but it's robust enough when full of soil and plants (Of which it holds 36). And it's certainly pretty. I got a bit of a strawberry crop from it last year, enough to be pleased and persist. This year, the strawberry plants are happily growing away.
...but wait. What's that white thing in the bottom planter cup?
It's a mushroom! Some dedicated research shows that we may have St George's mushrooms in the planter. These are supposed to be edible and tasty, if a bit floury. I ate a tiny experimental portion of one last night, and it was tasty. And I'm still alive, so I think we'll try the bowlful I've cut from the various bits of the planter tonight.
The strawberries are coming along nicely as well. We'll have a nice decent crop from them this year. About half the strawberry crowns are Cambridge Favourite, which crop in July; the others are a random mix of patio strawberry plants and crowns from the neighbours' patch, which should extend the season nicely. On the whole, I think the planter was a good purchase in terms of space-saving. It's even better value this year, as I note that everyone is selling them for half what I paid last year. The one challenge is keeping the birds off them. The planter comes with a vertical cane to suspend a net from, but last year I discovered that the birds would just press against the net and eat the strawberries through it. So what we did was to insert short bamboo canes into the cups in the side of the planter and put tennis balls on the end of those, to hold the net away from the fruit. You can just see one of the canes and the top of a tennis ball in the top image (I've removed them to use to net another bed of bedding plants to temporarily protect it from chickens scratching). It looks a bit space-age-ish, but it works!
I also ignore the instructions that come with the planter, which tell you to only water through the central pipe. I find that it's hard to overwater these plants, so I water with a hose from the top until water runs through the bottom of the planter. Because the planter is slightly raised, the chickens love this and come running to partake of the fresh running water while it's on offer.
Speaking of chickens and keeping birds off plants, Mr. G. finished much of the chicken-proofing of the kitchen garden this past weekend, with a chicken-wire baffle around the base of the netting frame.
So now we have chicken wire around the base and thin black plastic bird netting as far as the suspended bamboo canes, to keep the blackbirds out. There's just a couple of panels of bird netting to go. I think it looks great, and don't mind stepping over the chicken wire to get into the garden at all.
This garden is currently full of a LOT of garlic and shallots (this is the time of year when you find all the plants you missed last year), broad beans and the last of the purple sprouting broccoli. Three plants of purple sprouting broccoli have supplied us with a bowlful of small heads each week: a good amount for two people. I planted out a lot of Chinese greens, spinach and salad veg a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have plenty of greens if I keep up the successional planting.