Time to Think about Your Seed Needs

Within the last couple of days there has been a spike in emails and phone calls about seeds. The most asked question to date is whether our seeds are GMO. The answer, we signed the safe seed pledge which means that we do NOT sell GMO seeds. All of our seeds are open pollinated and are not hybrids.

We do sell some heirloom plants that are hybrids but none are GMO. They are propagated vegetatively which means by rooting their runners, so they are not open pollinated.

A couple of notes about seed availability and price. So far we are holding our prices or offering better prices and more discounts than in the past. We don’t know how long we’ll be able to do this. Some of the seed is now grown here in Delaware but a still significant amount is imported. The U.S. dollar is weaker than it was a year ago but we are pretty well stocked up right now. We likely will have some shortages as the season goes on, especially for seed we produce.

One other factor affecting availability is a significant increase in demand for seed from outside the U.S. Several species and many of the selections we offer are not available at all or to any great extent off shore. This is especially true for Fragaria virginiana and many of our F. vesca selections.

We are still making the transition from plant production to seed production. If demand for seed continues to increase we will likely significantly reduce our plant production and sales. Many of our customers are either garden centers or growers who grow for garden centers. With shipping costs being what they are it’s probably for the best if we ease back on plant production. It will be much more economical for gardeners to buy plants locally than to have us ship them across the country. It comes down to shear economics.

One last point. Most strawberry seed takes about 14 weeks from sowing to first fruit if grown in a range of 65 to 75 degrees F. This knowledge will help you to plan your sowing and also your seed purchases. Seed can be stored in a freezer prior to sowing and actually should be frozen for at least a month before sowing. All strawberry seed that we ship is already preconditioned and ready to sow. If you get the seed early or if you are a distant international customer who has to wait up to a couple of weeks to receive your order, freeze the seed until you are ready to sow to help optimize germination.

Strawberry Breeding

I’ve been getting a fair number of emails from customers stating that they are glad that I signed the safe seed pledge. Here is one of the responses I sent to a customer today:

Fortunately, til now those who want to tinker with genetics have left the alpines alone. I fear that won’t last long. The renewed interest in these wild types has caught the attention of the breeders who cannot accept plants for what they are. They think they need to “improve” even what is the best the God ever made. Their idea of improvement is to make them larger and harder so they can be shipped long distances. Haven’t they ever heard of “grow local”? No need to ship those grown locally.”

The genome of woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

On December 26, 2010 Nature Genetics published a monumental research effort. This work is awesome. I can’t say that I have read the whole article yet and have to admit that what I have read is difficult for me to understand. I did take college genetics, biochemistry and lots of biology classes. But, this work goes way beyond what most of us can comprehend. Check it out for yourself using the following link:

The Genome of Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

It think it’s a great idea to use the now current technology to bring flavor back to the strawberry, even if it sacrifices some of the size. My one hope is that scientists can restrain themselves in creating GMO strawberries and ruining the wild strawberries (another post discusses this.

Ornamental Strawberries

I received several emails last season about pretty pink flowering strawberries that produced no fruit. When we see these pretty plants at a “big box store” we just have to pick them up and take them home. Will you get fruit? The short answer is “that depends”.

I’m bringing this up now because I’m starting to offer seeds and plants with pink or rose flowers. Those that I have selected will produce fruit. These include ‘Fragissimo’ and ‘Tarpan’. We’ll talk more about those in another post.

Back to the pretty non productive ones. I found an excellent site that explains where these strawberries come from. The link is at Fragaria x Potentilla Hybrids. Strawberries that are grown for ornamental purposes that do not produce fruit include: ‘Pink Panda’ (also known as ‘Frel’), ‘Franor’ (aka ‘Red Ruby Strawberry’), ‘Gerald Straley’, and ‘Lipstick’. If you’re buying these for ornamental purposes then they are good choices. But, why buy ornamental strawberries when there are REAL strawberry varieties with pretty pink or rose flowers that produce tasty fruit?

Genetically Modified Strawberries

We are hearing more and more from the media about genetically modified food. The most recent story I heard is about salmon. Genetically modified crops such as corn have been around for a while. Large seed companies are modifying the genetics of various plants and justifying it in many ways. One so called justification is to say that yields will be increased.

Corn for example has been modified in several ways. One way is by modifying the genetics of the corn plant so that it produces a bacterial pesticide in every cell. This pesticide is known as Bacillus thuringensis. It kills a number of different types of worms. Another modification allows corn to be sprayed with a herbicide called Roundup. The corn is known as Roundup Ready. This herbicide is broad spectrum non selective herbicide the essentially kills most any green plant. It doesn’t just kill the foliage. It translocates throughout the plant and kills it roots and all.

So how does all of this relate to strawberries? In fact, I hadn’t thought about it too much. I sell seeds and plants that to my knowledge have not been genetically modified. Most are selections that have been grown for centuries without breeders getting involved, except perhaps home gardeners or European commercial growers looking for certain specific characteristics that improve various aspects of that cultivar.

Within the last 6 months I have become aware of behind the scenes work going on with hybrid strawberries to modify the genetics. In fact, it appears that this has been going on since the 1990′s. Do a quick search on Google for “genetic modification strawberries”. Some very interesting articles pop up. I won’t go into detail, but work is being done to introdroduce fish genes into strawberries to provide them with frost protection … the type of frost protection that the arctic fish have. Another modification involves making strawberries Roundup Ready. A widely used commercial fumigant has been doomed for quite some time. Those who are working on making strawberries herbicide tolerant are justifying it by saying that the loss of the fumigant will increase labor costs needed to remove weeds from the commercial plantings – which will also drive up the price of strawberries in the store.

Other than the obvious worry about adding yet another herbicide to the long list of pesticides that are applied to commercial strawberries, why would I spend any time mentioning all of this? The Google search also turned up several articles about what is being called genetic drift. It seems that wild strawberries that are growing in the vicinity of genetically modified strawberries pick up these characteristics fairly quickly. There is a very real possibility that the wild populations will be decimated by this genetic manipulation. The genetic manipulation can also render current species infertile. The movement of genetic alterations to wild populations has been proven in the case of sunflowers.

It doesn’t seem like many are concerned with what’s going on. Even the government isn’t protecting wild species and requiring extensive testing before releasing the genetically modified plants. Look what happened at the research level when killer bees escaped. It’s too late once the release has been done. You can’t take it back. You can only deal with the consequences. And, the consequences could be devastating. It could mean the loss of the wild species that we know.

Think about it. Do what you can. Talk to politicians and others that can influence those “in charge”. I think it’s time that we stand up and say something about what’s going on. I for one intend to start. I’m not sure yet where I’ll start, but something must be done to prevent a potential disaster to wild populations of strawberries.

This site is a member of THE STRAWBERRY STORE family of web sites:

The Strawberry Store Pine Berries Alpine Strawberries
Strawberry Seed Store Fraises Des Bois Virginia Strawberry
Gourmet Strawberry Seeds Berry Aromatic Wood Strawberries
Alpine Strawberry Seeds Yellow Strawberries Musk Strawberries