Monday, 26 March 2018

Alpine Strawberries in Australia


I have been getting a few questions over alpine strawberries so thought I would write a short blog post to clear up some things.  Alpine strawberries are different from garden strawberries in a number of ways, if you intend to grow them you should probably be aware of these differences.  I grow them, and I think they are great, but I also know what to expect from them. 

Various alpine strawberries, small and delicious
Alpine strawberries are a wild type of strawberry that grows across Europe.  They tend to be smaller plants that garden strawberries, and the ones I have grown seem to be hardier and more resistant to pretty much everything than I would have expected from such dainty little plants.  



Alpine strawberries are diploid, grow easily from seed, and most varieties never produce runners (although there are some types that do produce runners).  People often comment that they want strawberry plants that do not produce runners as they behave well and do not attempt to take over the garden.  I think runnerless plants are great for commercial plantings, but not ideal for home gardens.  I prefer a lot of runners as it means I can grow them as an edible ground cover and produce extra plants with no real effort on my part.  Some improved varieties are not grown from seed, instead they are propagated through dividing existing plants (or through tissue culture).  
 
In Australia we have little access to these improved hybrid varieties of alpine strawberries so growing from seed tends to be fine as long as it is not crossed.  Crossed seed will still grow, but it will grow different from either parent.  If buying alpine strawberry seed you have to be careful that what you are buying actually exists (as there are so many thieves on ebay selling fake strawberry seed) and that the plants were isolated, these little guys cross readily and you don’t want to grow a mixed bag of crosses from them.  If you do want to grow a cray mix of them, then buying mixed alpine strawberry seeds is the better way to go as you will get more diversity.
Alpine strawberry seedlings are tiny and cute
Many alpine strawberries are unimproved varieties that were discovered growing somewhere and then named, some varieties have been deliberately and carefully bred.  Most varieties produce strawberries that are significantly smaller than the strawberries that you can buy from the markets.  I have heard of a few varieties that produce large strawberries, but am yet to actually see one.  If you have one of these I would love to buy some seed from you and try them.

As well as growing significantly smaller strawberries, most varieties of alpine strawberry are not terribly productive.  They seem to produce for longer than my garden strawberries, just not very many berries each day.  The strawberries must be picked just ripe, either under ripe or over ripe they are still ok but do not taste nearly as good.  Due to being rather soft I can’t imagine that alpine strawberries are good for cold storage or long distance transport.  If low numbers of small strawberries growing on plants that refuse to set runners sounds bad to you then perhaps reconsider if you actually want to grow alpine strawberries.  
 
Alpine strawberries
The alpine strawberry plants are small and neat, many people comment on how ornamental they are.  Most alpine strawberries don’t take overly long to go from planting a seed until picking the first ripe strawberry.  Some garden strawberries can take a year or a few years, but many alpine strawberries take about 5 months, much the same time it takes to grow a tomato from seed.  

There is also a great diversity between varieties in terms of the strawberry colour, shape, taste etc.  I have seen alpine strawberries ripen red, yellow, and white, there are probably some darker ones and some pink ones.  All of these things are nice, but I wouldn’t grow them unless they had something better going for them than just looks.
More alpine strawberry seedlings
The real value of alpine strawberries is the taste, and to a lesser extent the smell.  These little strawberries taste really amazing.  Some varieties taste how you imagine a perfect strawberry should taste, fragrant, meltingly sweet, complex, and amazing.  Others taste sour but with a lovely taste that is difficult to describe and works perfectly with a little sourness.  Some taste remarkably like pineapple.  As I am growing these to be eaten here I pick these strawberries when they are ripe and because they are so soft I can almost inhale them.  I don't care that they are no good for long distance transport or long term storage, we eat them within minutes of being picked.
 
I grow a few different types of alpine strawberries, some produces a few small runners, one produces many long runners, but most of my varieties don’t produce any runners at all.  I grow a few other types of garden strawberries and a few other things, it makes strawberry season rather exciting.  I am also messing around with various strawberry breeding projects and am contemplating some wide crosses.  I may or may not end up with something worth keeping, only time will tell.

Where to buy alpine strawberries in Australia
It is difficult to find alpine strawberries for sale in Australia.  I sell some alpine strawberry plants on my for sale page along with a bunch of organic perennial vegetables, heirloom vegetable seeds and herbs.  I don't have many types listed at the moment, but I am growing a bunch of other ones that I will also sell when I have increased their numbers if they prove to be good enough.  I should probably try to take comparison pictures of the ripe strawberries from each variety one day.

2 comments:

  1. I used to buy the most beautifully flavoured white-when-ripe alpine strawberry plants from the wonderful "Honeysuckle Cottage" nursery at Bowen Mountain. The birds were never tempted by them. Alas, both the nursery and my old garden are long gone. Franinoz

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  2. Hi Franinoz,

    I remember seeing 'honeysuckle cottage' nursery's catalogue online and wanted to buy some herbs and strawberries from them. Unfortunately I didn't get around to it before they closed down. It is too bad, they had some amazing sounding strawberries and some herbs that I am yet to find anywhere else.

    Strangely enough the only strawberries I have lost to birds have been white or yellow ones. I have never lost a red strawberry to birds. Even when growing side by side the red have been ignored and the yellow or white have been taken. Birds see red easily so I have no idea why this would be.

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