Strawberries – a forgotten flavour!
Strawberries are one of the world’s most popular fruits. There is a native strawberry to most parts of the world and cultivated forms for every country. As detailed last month the cultivated forms are mostly derived from what has become known as the Garden Strawberry. This is the hybrid between the Virginian species Fragaria virginiana and a Sth American variety Fragaria chiloensis called Fragaria x ananassa. From this cross that first occured by accident in Brittany during the 18th century have come hundreds of commercial and home gardener selections.
Over the last 300 years there has been a great deal of targeted breeding across the world. Unfortunately many of these cultivars were selected not for their flavour but for their harvest period, transportability, shelf life and appearance. Some of us remember when most of what we ate came from the grower or were selected for the taste. We remember when strawberries tasted like strawberries. Many of today’s young people think strawberry is that ‘pink flavour’ in ice cream or the red flavour in lollies and soft drink.
As this is a very popular fruit for commercial production a lot of time and money has been spent in breeding and selection. World wide 500 plus new varieties have been produced, evaluated and used since 1990. Most of these have been selected in government funded research bodies. USA, Australia and Spain are three of the main breeding countries. Large seed companies are also constantly examining new cultivars. They are after plants that fruit well but main criteria are speed of growth and trueness to type.
Strawberries are great fruit and technically are referred to as an ‘aggregate fruit’. Most ‘fruits’ are an expanded over with the seed inside. One strawberry is actually the formed from the plant part that holds the ovary and the ‘seeds’ are called ‘achenes’ and are on the outside of the fruit. There are three broad groupings of strawberries based on flowering period. They are referred to as short day, long day or day neutral. These names come from the length of day when the plant prefers or flower. Its is actually the number of hours of darkness that govern flowering.
Short day varieties require a minimum amount of dark before flowering can be initiated and when the night time is less than that they stop producing. Long day varieties will stop flowering once a maximum amount of night occurs. Day neutral flower regardless of day length. The short day varieties flower/fruit in mid spring to early summer and again in early autumn to early winter (although hot and cold can affect fruiting as well).
Strawberries are very easy to grow if given some basic conditions. They need plenty of sunlight, good air movement and well drained soil. They do not like wet roots or wet foliage so drip irrigation (or soaker hoses) are the preferred method of watering. A rich organic soil is also good. Plant in planter boxes, planter bags or in raised beds. This aid is drainage and picking the fruit. They are easily grown in pots and should have the crown above the soil to reduce chance of disease. Root growth is quite quick so will need re-potting every year or two. For optimum fruiting any runners should be removed as they appear.
They respond very well to regular watering and fortnightly applications of Seasol and PowerFeed. If they are kept healthy and vigorous with the above conditions they will grow well and be able to keep diseases and pests at bay. Plant productivity reduces significantly in after two years so should be replaced every two to three years. This can be done by collecting runners in late autumn and chilling over early winter then planting in late winter. Until then remove any runners as they appear to get best plant yields.
There are dozens of recipes for strawberries, but they are best eaten at room temperature with a splash of cream and a glass of white wine. However you can make them into refreshing summer drinks, light fruit salad deserts, tasty deserts like mousse, meringue, scones and shortcakes. Homemade strawberry jam on freshly made multigrain toast makes a great brunch. Also for something different add a few to a green salad or as a garnish for a traditional Greek salad. Go to www.renaissanceherbs.com.au or www.clivescorner.com.au for more recipes.
There are many varieties available at the moment. Some are good producers and some average. Many are grown by people with little knowledge of the plant or its requirements so stock should be selected from reputable suppliers. Most are cultivars of the F. x ananassa but there are some other species available like the Alpine or Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca). This is a small but free fruiting species from the northern hemisphere. Other cultivars include: Red Gauntlet – a popular fruit with medium size and good flavour – day neutral. Tioga – vigorous plant with lots of fruit – day neutral. Strawberry Pink – a dainty variety with pink flowers. Big Sweetie – New release with very large, very sweet fruit on vigorous plant – short day plant.