I frequently get asked questions like this: “We have a family of 4. How many alpine strawberry plants should we plant to be able to supply our strawberry needs?”. At first blush this question seems simple. Take the strawberry needs of 4 people and divide by production per plant. Right?
Not quite. Alpines, like most gourmet types of strawberries, and are not grown and sold by the quart. We Americans want the highest yielding whatever. It is obvious with strawberries that the flavor and aroma is not a consideration. Quantity wins.
Did you ever think about why portions of French dishes are so small. Americans don’t feel like they are getting value with such meals. I’m paying what for such a small portion? If you look at the size of the portion without tasting it you probably do feel short changed. But the value in French food is the taste, the experience, not the quantity.
If you are looking only at quantity, go buy a quart of strawberries in the store. During the summer when my alpines were not producing much because of the heat, I finally gave in to the temptation to buy a quart of strawberries at my local grocery store. In fact, they were selling them two for the price of one. Wow, what a bargain. They looked great. Huge unripe berries. In the final analysis, they were not a bargain. I ended up feeding most of what I bought to my worms. Pretty expensive worm food! There was very little aroma. Just enough to get me to buy them. The taste was horrible. The crispiness of an apple. Even sugar didn’t make it much better, just tolerable. Yes, they had strawberry flavor, afterall, they have most of the genes of strawberries. I was very disappointed and felt that I wasted my money.
So, what’s the answer? I think the only choice we have as consumers is to grow our own if we are looking for food that tastes good. And more importantly, if we want to be able to control what our food is sprayed with we must grow our own.
This has become the mission of The Strawberry Store. We are bringing back heirloom varieties. Many of these varieties were pushed out of the marketplace because their yields could no longer compete with newer varieties. Some fell out of favor for other reasons such as susceptibility to pests or that they don’t ship well. If you are growing them in your backyard, why do they need to ship well?
I heard from a strawberry breeder recently that he is not interested in working with varieties that don’t have all of what they now consider desirable characterics such as shipability, size, yield, etc. It is becoming more and more clear to me that these breeders are breeding strawberries that will at some point turn the tide. More and more consumers want to grow their own for some of the reasons already mentioned. If the flavor continues to be sacrificed for size and yield, at some point people will stop buying the fruit at the store like I have. If enough people get fed up with the lack of value then breeders are going to have to start reconsidering their positions.
We hear frequently from customers that they are happy with the heirlooms. Many customers are buying and planting varieties that we are reintroducing and testing themselves for characteristics important to them. The home gardener is now becoming the breeder in a way. They are selecting varieties that give them what they cannot buy at the store. Some are even becoming amateur plant breeders. They are planting the seeds from the strawberries that they grow and selecting their own varieties. In the 1800’s, this is how new varieties were introduced. Home gardeners were the plant breeders of that day. I think in some ways plant breeding is coming full circle. More and more are unhappy with the selections being introduced by professional breeders and are making their own selections. These selections are not solely based on yield. Flavor and aroma are a part of this selection process. And, a lot of the fruit picked gets eaten right in the garden. Who needs varieties that can be shipped thousands of miles when they are not shipped even one foot – they’re eaten on the spot or within 50 feet of where they are grown. This is the reason our business exists, and is thriving.