This is a large topic so it may have to be added in a couple of posts. I’ll get as far as I can today.
Let’s be clear right away. What I’m going to talk about here are non-runnering alpine strawberries. These plants are ever-bearing, but one more attribute about them, they are day-neutral. That means that they will bloom when conditions are favorable (correct temperature, moisture, nutrition, etc) irregardless of day length. They do not require a chilling period like the runnering alpine varieties.
First, let’s set aside some misconceptions. I’ve been growing and testing alpine strawberry varieties for over 20 years. There are some that believe that all red alpines are really the same variety. The varieties are actually selections that have been made through the years. They are not hybrids and are not gmo.They are open-pollinated varieties and produce true from seed although division can also be used to propagate them.
Still others believe that the yellows and whites are the same variety. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind that each variety is distinct. I have seen it in production trials. I have seen it in germination tests. Each variety that I carry is unique. Yes, they have similarities but they are NOT the same.
Second, let’s jump into productivity misconceptions. Many references online and even in print tend to say the same thing. They usually start out saying that alpines make good border plants and are cute little things that don’t produce enough fruit to warrant being in the garden. It is usually recommended by these authors that the plants are very cute along the sidewalk planted 6″ apart. They go on to paint the picture that you will be drawn to the plants by the aroma that they produce.
About the only part of this that’s true is about the aroma. It’s unmistakable once you’ve discovered where that strong aroma is coming from. You can then let your nose point you toward the alpine patch. Yes, they are partially correct in saying that they aren’t productive. They won’t produce much if they’re planted that close together. They’re kind of being set up for failure.
My thesis in entomology school was about the innate capacity of the green cloverworm, a very obscure “pest” of soybeans in the midwest. Enough about that. What I want to emphasize is the innate capacity part. What this basically means is that if you remove all the factors that negatively influence a characteristic – in this case productivity – then that’s the innate capacity.
For a number of years I’ve grown alpines in large containers including half barrels. It doesn’t take a plant long to fill a barrel. And, with the right conditions, nutrition, light, moisture, etc you’ll get a lot of fruit. I’m one of those people who has to quantify things. I finally decided about 4 years ago to take a look at the innate capacity for production of alpine strawberries. I laid out the following plan.
- I chose a single plant each of 8 varieties that were grown from seed at about the same date – within a couple of weeks of each other
- These plants were well over a year old when they were transplanted to a large raised bed that had been amended with mushroom soil
- The plants were planted 18 – 20 inches apart in the bed in a single row. The row faced the morning and mid day sun with no shaddows. In the mid afternoon the bed is shaded which is great for strawberries – they don’t like the heat!
- Bird netting was used over the row at all times. The netting was pulled back only when picking
- The trial actually started when the plants were about two years old. They were huge plants that measured 18 or more inches in diameter.
- For the spring only, fruit was picked every two days or so. If adverse weather was predicted the fruit was picked more often. The number of fruit picked was recorded per plant and the fruit was weighed in grams with a fairly accurate portable scale
- since I was looking at the potential for production, no effort was made to grade the fruit. every berry was included in the counts and the weights
The results of this trial have not been published so I’ll give some general information here. ‘Alexandria’ and ‘Yellow Wonder’ were the two top producing varieties. Statistically they produced the “same” amount of fruit. These two varieties produced nearly 450 berries each and the total weight of these berries was 0.9 lb. That’s a LOT of fruit. And, this was the spring season only. Studies setup on 2009 will follow multiple plants for each of 12 varieties for multiple seasons so we’ll try to get a handle on this.
So, don’t believe it if you read that alpines are cute little, unproductive plants. Further proof of this is that fruit is being imported into the U.S. almost daily from Europe. The Europeans don’t make a fuss about it and you don’t hear much about it unless you dine at a top French restaurant. These plants, yes, some of the same varieties that I have worked with all these years, are the same ones being grown overseas and shipped here. European growers wouldn’t be wasting their time picking from unproductive plants, would they?
The next planned post – why should I plant multiple varieties of alpines? See ya then …..