The alpine strawberry crop this year was exceptional. The weather had a lot to do with this bumper crop. Another factor is our fine tuning irrigation and fertilization schedules. Check out these ‘Pineapple Crush’ berries harvested today, 6/22/12. I wish you could experience the aroma and taste of these exceptional berries.
I have been in touch with a couple of researchers who are looking at strawberry flavor and aroma. What a delightful change in pace. It seems that the whole world is hung up on size, shipability, shelf life and all that’s not about flavor. A customer and new friend at the U of FL sent me an article about aroma that just fascinated me. I won’t go into it all here, but I will mention that researchers have identified the group of compounds responsible for the aroma that you experience from strawberries. They are called Ã‚Â MA or methyl anthranilate. This is the main volatile compound present in wild types like Fragaria vesca that give them their distinctive aroma.
Most of the garden hybrids that we see in the grocery store have little or no MA. It is present only in the wild types of several species. In fact, several species other than F. vesca have higher MA content, even though F. vesca has a high content. I located a couple of these species and am in the process of attempting to get them shipped to me. This is not an easy task, but will be well worthwhile if I can accomplish it. My hope is to look at these species in terms of production and taste to see whether they can be commercialized. A longer range dream is to cross the most promising to create stable hybrids with high aroma, excellent taste and high productivity. I’m a dreamer but we’ll see what happens.
My inbox is filling up with emails from families who are interested in growing their own strawberries. Almost every one says that they are looking for varieties that will produce large volumes of strawberries. Most mention that they also want varieties that taste great.
First, I want to congratulate these folks for making the decision to grow their own fruit. Next, I want to mention that I’m not in the “volume strawberry business”. I would love to be able to offer every variety that is available. However, I’m in the business of selling seeds and plants for gourmet strawberries, what I like to call strawberries with taste.
Don’t get me wrong. There are strawberry varieties being sold that taste great when they are allowed to ripen on the plant. I’m not a big fan of June bearing strawberries. It’s not necessarily the taste. Yes, many produce large volumes of berries. My opinion is that I’m not really interested in taking care of plants for a whole year and only being able to harvest for a couple of weeks. I like the day neutrals which will produce a spring and a fall crop. But, that’s just my preference.
I do sell a gourmet June bearing type that produces a lot of fruit called ‘Madame Moutot’. I will have more available in the spring but these sell out quickly. I will be introducing other heirloom varieties in the future. One that I hope to have available in the fall of 2011 is ‘Fairfax’. Ã‚Â My recommendation for buying June bearing varieties is to ask your local county extension office for their recommendations. Most states’ land grant universities publish recommendations for varieties and how to grow them. They can also test your soil for pH and nutrients. Use those resources.
The main day neutral hybrid that I carry is ‘Mara des Bois’. The fruit is generally medium sized and the plants are productive. It now has a large market share in Europe. The taste is terrific and the volume isn’t bad. You won’t get a giant crop in spring but you will get a nice crop and another in fall. The best part is the taste. Given the right nutrition this variety is very tasty.
Those would be my selections for producing a lot of fruit. But, it’s all relative. The alpines are not slouches when it comes to production. Many Americans are not aware that alpines, also known as fraises des bois, are being imported into the U.S. from overseas for a LOT of money. These European growers must know something that we don’t? The truth is that most of the literature here in the U.S. from garden writers and descriptions in garden catalogs is wrong (I have been on this high horse before so please forgive me for repeating myself). Most descriptions call the alpines cute little ornamentals that look and smell great along the sidewalk when planted about 6″ apart.
A customer recently sent an email and noted that planting any plant that you care about along the sidewalk is not a good idea. The soil along a sidewalk is not usually very rich. It’s usually packed clay. It will likely be walked on and in colder climates the plants will get a large dose of salt used to melt ice and snow. He’s exactly right. Given the space and care, alpines can be very productive. Yes, they are small, but wouldn’t you rather spend more time picking small aromatic berries with a heavenly taste that picking some giant relatively tasteless berries? The Europeans are treating their alpines like a crop. I can assure you that they are producing a lot of very tasty strawberries AND, they are making a LOT of money doing it.
I invite you to view a video I put together last year. Here’s the link: Ã‚Â The Strawberry Store Sells Gourmet Strawberries.
My recommendations for alpines is to check out the chart that I put together that rates the varieties. Here’s a link:
Alpine Strawberry Variety Characteristics. Ã‚Â For the most consistent production choose a couple of varieties. These plants flower cyclically when conditions are favorable. Planting several varieties will overlap each other in their cycles and produce fruit more consistently. Decide if you want to try yellow or white fruiting varieties. Why not try them? Grow a couple of red varieties and a novelty variety like ‘Yellow Wonder’. ‘Yellow Wonder’ is as productive as the best red varieties. I think yellow and white fruiting alpines are sweeter than the reds. And, the birds aren’t as apt to steal the yellows and whites.
Another recommendation is to not start out too big. I have received emails recently from families saying that they have these large areas set aside for next year’s strawberry patch. Unless you’re an experienced gardener, start out slowly and small. Experiment with different strawberry species, different types, different varieties. Learn to grow them. Learn how they grow in your climate, your soil, etc. Take those experiences into account for the next year’s crop. I too often learn that customers gave up after trying to do it all. Take it slow. We’ll have plants in future years for you to try. I’m planning to be around for some time, God willing.