21 September 2021

Meet the gardener behind this berry wholesome online community

| Lucy Ridge
Ripe strawberries growing in pots

Annette Bunfield grows her strawberries in stacked pots. Photo: Annette Bunfield.

Annette Bunfield is a Canberra gardener who has been using Facebook to help others grow bumper backyard strawberry crops. With warm days ahead of us, now is a great time to get stuck into the garden and connect with communities of like-minded local gardeners online.

Annette’s Southside home has an impressive garden with hundreds of strawberry plants, a colourful collection of succulents, and an established vegetable garden. But it wasn’t always this way: 10 years ago she and her husband had only ever grown “the odd tomato”, and if you’d told her that she would end up with such a fantastic garden, she would have asked, “And on what planet is this happening!?”

But a serious illness in 2012 left Annette unable to work, and so, in an attempt to stretch a single income budget, she started to grow a few vegetables and found she had a knack for it.

Succulents planted in colourful teapots

Annette grows her succulents in up-cycled teapots. Photo: Annette Bunfield.

She turned to the internet for community and advice but found that many online groups were centred around Northern Hemisphere growers. So she became involved in Canberra region gardening and crop swap groups on Facebook.

“I’ve picked up all these different things from different groups,” she says. It’s also been a great way to meet like-minded gardeners,

“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people … and I’ve made some good friends out of it.”

I first came across Annette in The Urban Homesteading Club (Canberra & Surrounds) Facebook group in 2019 when a recipe she shared for sweet zucchini relish was circulated enthusiastically through the group.

I admit I was a little sceptical at first – could it really be that good? – but yes, it is that good, and it quickly became a favourite. So when I saw Annette had created a new group, I knew it would be full of great advice.

A productive vegetable garden

Strawberries can be grown in stacked pots to save space. Photo: Annette Bunfield.

Strawberries became an obsession for Annette when she realised they were both easy to grow and that home-grown berries tasted far better than those from the supermarket.

She created the group Strawberry Growing in Canberra & Surrounds in 2020 just as the first wave of COVID reached Canberra and panic buying cleared the shelves at Bunnings.

The surge of interest in gardening saw many Canberrans joining online gardening communities for the first time, tapping into the accumulated wisdom of folks like Annette and many more.

Generally, members of the strawberry group have been able to bypass store shortages by trading and sharing plants among themselves, strengthening the ties of this online community in the real world.

Strawberries are uniquely suited to this as most strawberry plants will shoot out ‘runners’, which can be grown into new ‘daughter’ plants, which are exact clones of the parent. In this way, one strawberry plant can yield many more.

Annette with her strawberry plants

Annette Bunfield grows enough strawberries to last her all year. Photo: Annette Bunfield.

The current lockdown has, unfortunately, put a halt on in-person trades, but as restrictions ease, the virtual gardening community will once again be able to swap plants, share tips, and admire each other’s gardens.

And there is plenty to admire: Annette’s garden is both beautiful and extremely productive.

Her best season yielded 49.5 kg of strawberries with 7 kg picked in a single day! She has over 450 strawberry plants with 27 different varieties, but her favourite is the Strasberry.

“They say if you could cross a strawberry and a raspberry, this would be it.”

It is smaller and darker than most other strawberry varieties, with a very soft texture. With a non-existent shelf life, you won’t find this berry in the supermarket. The taste?

“Oh, my God! It’s divine!”

Small ripe 'strasberries' in pot

Annette’s favourite variety is the ‘strasberry’. Photo: Annette Bunfield.

Strawberries are also a space-efficient crop. Annette uses ‘stack-a-pots’, which are compact enough to fit in a small courtyard or balcony. She’s been so successful with this system that she has enough fruit to last year-round by freezing and preserving her bumper crop.

Annette had three main goals when she created the group: building connections with other Canberra gardeners, sharing her own knowledge, and learning more from other people. She’s delighted to see the members in the group have gained so much confidence, and there are plenty of people to answer questions from newcomers and lots of happy gardeners sharing their successes.

The group has grown to over a thousand members and has even spawned a sister group for people living in and around Sydney. Thanks to Annette’s generosity, we’re better at growing not just strawberries but also community.

Learn more from Annette by joining Strawberry Growing in Canberra & Surrounds.

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on The RiotACT.

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