I grew up reading about strawberries and cream, a delectable treat reserved for super special occasions. Enid Blyton, of course, could make boiled eggs sound grand, but the tantalizing descriptions of strawberries and cream stayed with me over the years.
Never having seen, much less tasted an actual strawberry before I came to the United States, imagine the shattering disappointment of first trying a store-bought strawberry – under-ripe, extra-large, and sort of … just bland.
Recently, I chanced upon alpine strawberries online. In my quest for the perfect dish of strawberries and cream, and again led along by luscious descriptions, I bought packets of red and white alpine strawberry seeds from The Strawberry Store.
Here’s what I gleaned:
1. Alpine strawberries are naturally much smaller than their store-bought cousins. But also more delicious, with a real strawberry taste – along with essences of rose and pineapple. Who could resist that?
2. Alpine strawberries are cultivated strains of wild or woodland strawberries and at one time were the only type of strawberries people ate. Enid Blyton was clearly writing about these.
3. They can be grown from seed, although this can be a frustrating experience. Also, seeds need to be preconditioned by keeping at freezing temperatures for 3-4 weeks.
The collection of red varieties I bought included Mignonette, Alexandria, Regina and Ruegen, and the yellow/white varieties included Yellow Wonder, White Soul, White Solemacher and Pineapple Crush.
The seeds are extremely small and light as you might expect. I prepared an 8×9 cell seedling tray with a sphagnum peat moss and perlite growing medium (Black Gold Seedling Mix), moistened slightly. I sprinkled the seeds, 2-6 in each cell. The instructions on the packets suggest germination is best at temperatures of 65-75 F, growing medium kept moist at all times and that light aids germination. Our home is kept between 65 and 70 F at all times, the seedling tray is placed in front of a bright window and since I won’t be able to help checking on the seeds everyday, I plan to mist the medium when I see it drying out. Germination can take anywhere from 7 days to a month or longer.
The hope is that by the time spring rolls around, I’ll have a few sturdy seedlings to plant outside for a steady supply of authentic strawberries year-round.
Continuing my quest for home-grown tropical fruit I also started Hawaiian papaya seeds yesterday. The three varieties I planted are Red Lady, Hawaiian Solo Sunrise and Hawaiian Solo Sunset from Aloha Seed. The Solo varieties bear single-serving sized pear-shaped fruit early on and Red Lady is a medium sized F1 hybrid, which also bears early.
Papayas need warmth to germinate and do not like root disturbance. Most mail order stores shipping papaya plants caution about this. I planted two seeds each in 4 inch pots filled with the same seed starting mix, all pots placed on a heating pad, which delivers a nice, steady warmth. I covered the pots with Press’n Seal wrap to maintain humidity. Germination takes 1 to 2 weeks.
So, this is where I am at – dreaming of a perfect bowl of strawberries and cream (or, vanilla custard with a few strawberries on top) and backyard-ripened papaya with a dash of lime, and pots of seedling mixes, seeds and hope crowding my dining table!