Posted: 01/07/2014 at 10:40
I'm still a relative beginner but I have learned a lot and my strawberries are doing great so I'll share my thoughts!
Conventional wisdom is not to let them fruit in their first year, so I would definitely look to get some runners in now and established for next year.
I bought a single Albion plant last year (late so it had probably cropped already) and let it put out runners. Each runner will put out some leaves and then continue to run some more - keep them trimmed back to the first runner, subsequent plants will be weak. Put a pot of compost under the bunch of leaves on each runner, lightly peg the runner stem down if it has a tendancy to move around, and over a few weeks it will put down roots into the pot.
When the roots are established in the pot, snip the runner from the main plant and bring it on independantly. I think I made 13 new plants from the single one I bought giving me 14 plants this year - and I didn't even use all the runners it put out, and only the first plant on each runner! Obviously different varieties will vary!
All plants are fruiting this year, the differential seems to be where they are planted in the bed, the ones furthest from the trees that are in the sun the most are much bigger with more stems of of flowers/fruits, those in the partial shade of the trees are smaller and have just 1 stem of flowers/fruits but all are producing good fruit (I picked the first batch last night, very tasty!)
To cover the whole season you will need to pick varieties that fruit at different times, but either way I'd say now is the time to plan the beds and get some runners in the ground. I pegged fleece over mine for the winter and they show no signs of cold problems (leaves turn red) and are coming on nicely.
Planning is the hardest part - practising crop rotation is a good idea, but strawberries are supposed to crop well for 3 years (but will go on forever) so you would need to plan beds so that you can move the strawberries every fourth year (some people like to have 3 beds of different years on the go together how many beds would that require?) and grow other stuff that uses different nutrients in the other years (consider leaving a fallow year too).
If you plant different varieties in the same bed you will need to keep on top of the runners, if you let them self root in the ground you will just end up with a carpet of all the different varieties intermingled. Of course, that might be what you desire for a more rambling stawberry patch producing fruit all over for a long season rather than a patch with distinct areas that fruit at different times?