TROPICAL STRAWBERRIES

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It had been 4 years since we grew and documented journals on growing strawberries from seeds in Singapore.

With the compilation of data and observations from our plants, we began to test what we hypothesized about strawberries in the tropical zone since 2017 and these were some of our findings.

The parameter for our learning journey was to grow from seeds, in natural SG environment and not used any automated systems. We wanted to grow cool seasoned plants with zero or little carbon footprint as possible to keep growing costs down and see how they adapt to our climate. Heirloom Alpine Strawberries were chosen because they thrived in containers, tasted better and have many varieties from seeds. Runner-less varieties were preferred due to lack of space.

WINTER

There was a lot of misconception about the winter effect on strawberries in our gardening communities.

First, winter is not necessary for strawberries to fruit. Strawberries can fruit in our climate, regardless of varieties. However white and yellow varieties took a longer time to flower in our natural environment.

Gardeners who lived abroad shared that their strawberries improved every season and more often than not, they did so without too much maintenance beyond the normal tilling and fertilizing.

Their fruits sizes also improved over the years. In the winter months, these strawberries grew wild and remained outdoor.

TROPICAL ZONE

We made the following observations on our 2 years old plants and feedback from other gardeners. Gardeners with high tech systems concurred on fruits sizes.

  1. Fruit sizes remained small, maximum length was 3 cm
  2. First harvest yielded the highest quantity of fruits than subsequent harvests.
  3. Did not enter full dormant stage
  4. Hardy plants, survived hot, wet and haze conditions

Fact – strawberries are frost hardy meaning they endured winter well and usually emerged from melted snow in Spring to grow again. Some did not return, only healthy plants returned. In our climate, healthy plants also returned to fruit after an adequate rest period. Length of time was dependent on varieties as well. For example, the hardier red garden variety was about 4 months while the whites took longer, about 6 months. Observation was based on soil based plants.

Fact – Regardless of climates, from seeds,  fruits size for the first harvest was small. Not larger than 3 cm.

BIG STRAWBERRIES  

We looked into the forcing culture of greenhouse strawberries in Japan. A paper published by Atsushi Yamasaki  (Field Crop and Horticulture Division, National Agriculture and Food Research (NARO) Tohoku Agriculture Research Center, Japan), prescribed artificially creating an almost winter environment, to force plants to rest so that they can renew energy to yield better crop.

This would required a cold room environment, an ideal temperature range of 9 to 15 degree Celsius and another winter element. Can you guess what it is?

At this temperature, greenhouse strawberries did not enter the full dormant stage of outdoor plants in the winter. When they returned, these plants start flowering instead of sending runners.

NATURAL FERTILIZER, HIGH POTASSIUM (K) FOR FRUITING

With this method, greenhouse strawberries were manipulated in an artificial environment to fruit all year round and with each crop, be able to harvest bigger fruits. Aside from these winter rest tweaking, strawberries were grown as naturally as possible. Bees were housed indoors to pollinate flowers as needed. Organic compost was preferred.

In summary, strawberries do not need winter to fruit. The cold is needed for them to rest, so that these plants renewed energy to grow better. Size of fruits improved over seasons. The older the strawberries were, the better they get, fulfilling what we have all understood from gardeners who lived abroad.

Thus, for local gardeners with deep pockets and want big fruits, consider investing in a cold room. Create an artificial indoor winter environment, to enjoy bigger size (zero pesticide) strawberries for the family. Commercially, this is not a sustainable method because our cost of energy is too high compared to our neighbors with natural cool environment.

BREEDING & VARIETIES 

For the rest of us, we can still grow and enjoy homegrown strawberries and be able to maintain our plants for years by keeping them healthy. WORKSHOPS are available to share how to tweak our indoor environment without too much hassle, among other tips and handling work.

SOIL DEPTH

We tested different pots depth for all our plants because of space constraints. As long as basic needs of strawberries plants were met, they can fruit on time (within 5 months) without too much trouble.

Strawberries Plants Tropical Care

Mini Cup, 2 inch soil

Plants with cooler roots, grew better with ease. We also grew in modified plastic recyclables with this need in mind when we upcycled them for growing.

Strawberries Plants tropical Care

Tall Cup

When the heat was suffocating during our hotter tropical months (May – September), strawberries plants drooped often. Non-red varieties (white or yellow types) suffer heat related stress more than the common red garden varieties. They recovered once immediate cooling measures were applied. It could be as simple as removal from hot environment to a shadier area. If no symptom showed, strawberries are sun lovers, able to tolerate summer heat as high as 38 degree Celsius and high humidity.

Tropical strawberries care

Droopy leaves

BEAT THE HEAT With FABRIC POTS

 

From the above observation, we do not think planting strawberries in the ground is a good idea, unless there is heavy mulching to keep direct heat from penetrating the roots zone. Instead of straw or hay which are expensive in Singapore, we preferred dried leaves, tree barks and coco bales.

Strawberries (over 6 months old) are hardy enough that they survived direct sun in the ground. However any heat stress can delayed fruiting.

RAIN

Mature plants, over 5 months old,  survived heavy monsoon rains, subjected to some conditions. First, soil must drained well and the crown of the plant are set properly. Rot set in if leaves and crown remained constantly wet.

SOIL vs. KRATKY 

Soil based plants produced more fruits (80 – 120 small berries total)  than plants grew in KRATKY (50 fruits) over a 4 months window, even though the latter medium is cooler.

Grow strawberries from seeds in Singapore

KRATKY (liquid base)

Time to arrived at flowering stage is faster for Kratky than soil based plants.

GENERATIONS

Second generation plants yield less fruits than their parent plants but arrived at flowering stage earlier.

It is from the third generation that we observed better acclimated plants with similar traits of their bountiful parents with less heat issues.

Soil based of these seedlings flowered at 3rd month and fruits developed faster. In Kratky, flowers showed in the second month.

RUNNERS vs. SEEDS

Our runner-less Alpines showed runners when they were stressed. The reasons varied from a near tear in the stem or over fertilizing.

If runners are rooted, fruiting is usually delayed.

Grow strawberries from seeds in Singapore

Runner with aerial roots

First flowers from Alpine runners tend to dry up.

Strawberry Plant Care in the tropics

Runner’s Flowers

If runners were rooted, they often sent out more daughter plants instead of flowering.

The above plant remained fruit-less for over a year. When flowers showed, they did not turned until 2 years later. Only three fruits developed well in this period.

From observation, it seem strawberries can only do one thing at a time.

A Puzzle still waiting for answers – Is winter a deciding factor for runners / hybrid plants? Why did overseas strawberries’ runners produced fruits within the year and ours could not?

COLD TO HOT CLIMATE

Mature plants from cold to hot climate do not immediately produced fruits if the fruits are not present on the plants when they arrived.

Acclimation to a drastically different environment took over a year. Fruiting were delayed, 1 to 2 years.

Most did not survived.

In the West, gardens centers only sell starter plants suitable for their zones, to allow plants to adapt quickly. Adapting is easier within the same climate.

Thus we preferred to grow from seeds. From day 1, in our climate.

HEIRLOOM vs. HYBRIDS, soil based

Heirloom Alpines from seeds, produced small berries but compensated with quantity (80 – 120 fruits over 4 months), usually within 5 months from seeds.

HYBRIDS produced larger fruits in lesser quantity and took a longer time to fruit ( 6 months to over a year), usually grown from a mature runner plant not seeds. Supermarkets’ fruits seeds (Korean strawberries) have these characteristics too if they fruit. With hybrids, the risks are that seedlings do not grow true to parent plants or no fruits at all, only runners.

Conclusion

Based on these observations, we continued to grow from seeds rather than hybrid or runners plants. With seeds, we enjoyed different taste from varieties and have acclimated plants within a shorter time than the latter.

Rather than bigger fruits, we chose many small berries from different wild varieties within the year. Seeds from acclimatized parent plants also grew faster.

No matter the decision, it is still ultimately the grower’s choice.

Growing own strawberries will always be a special experience for the whole family.

 

Grow Alpine Mignonette Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 Nov28

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Temperamental Plants

Growing cool seasoned plants such as strawberries outside their ideal zones is not difficult as long as we understood the plants’ signals.

From the experience of seeds grown plants, we first recognized what are the healthy signals.

For strawberries, the most indicative of health is red or vivid stems/crown. Next are open faced leaves, upright standing plant, and vigorous growth of leaves.

Growing Strawberries from Seeds in Singapore

2017 July 24 – Vivid stems

Tropical Care of Cool Seasoned Plants

Un-cupped Leaves

In fatigue stress, the first sign is declining red in the stems.

Strawberry Care in the tropics

Nov 4 2015 – After fruits harvest

Remedy – Repot in new soil and let tired plants rest and wait for recovery.

Colour will first return to crown then stems if all is well with the plants. If the plants have been too dependent on fertilizers or not healthy to begin with, they may not be able to recover. This is the same as natural zone grown strawberries. Not every plant returned after wintering outdoors. But for those that do, they are stronger and more vigorous plants.

Strawberries do not fruit in winter

2018 April 27 – New Shoots

Not all droopy leaves and stems are indicative signs of bad health. Sometimes, strawberries can be temperamental plants as well.

Strawberries Care in the Tropics

Throwing a Tantrum!

Don’t be fooled ! These plants are not sick. The stems and colour are still in the pink of health.

Strawberries Care in the Tropics

Sign of unhappiness

Remedy – Study the growing environment and reverse whatever is causing fatigue in these plants. Young seedlings are less hardy and can be easily stressed. Example, if wind is too strong, remove pot to less windy areas. The solution can be as easy as that!

Strawberries Care in the Tropics

Recovered overnight

Strawberries’ Overview – From Seeds to Fruits :)

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In March 2015 , my 11 year old daughter’s birthday wish was to harvest strawberries in our apartment. 🙂

It would not be a hard wish to grant if we were living in a temperate climate region, but we are living in Singapore, a tropical country.

Right from the start, we were met with disbelief and skepticism when we told friends what we wanted to do. They all thought I was crazy!!!

Our impossible mission began March 2015, after watching a few videos on how other people grew strawberries from seeds.

Most of these how-to videos were from Europe or United States. There were none from South East Asia, at least not the English speaking ones that we could find.

We wish we found this book when we began our journey! Everything we should know about growing strawberries from experts, especially “Hot Months” on page 16 –

The first strawberries seeds germinated on April 4 2015, from a packet of seeds from Far East Flora, a local nursery near home.

Strawberry Seeds in Singapore

It took 10 days to see our first strawberries seeds sprouting! There was no going back after this point.

Strawberry seedlings from seeds in Singapore

A week later, we decided to see if we could harvest seeds ourselves and germinate seedlings from store bought fresh strawberries.

We discovered that matured seeds from ripe fresh fruits had a faster germination rate of 2 to 5 days instead of 10 days. This is Summer’s video on how to choose the matured fresh strawberry seeds for germination :

However in late December 2015, we were advised by American growers that harvesting from fresh strawberries was not a good idea. All our supermarkets’ strawberries are hybrids, they would not grow true to parent plants. Our own experience with these seedlings showed they did not last long. Most of our seedlings from fresh strawberries died at 5th month or after they were transplanted to deeper pots.

Harvesting ripe seeds from strawberries

Kids are harvesting mature seeds from ripe strawberries 🙂

I hope this excitement of discoveries and spirit of learning led them to research in fields of their interests when they grow up.

We created our group on Facebook, ” SG Farming in Apartments”,  to share our experience on May 1 2015.

More pictures on how we began to harvest day’s post is pinned at the top of this group. Our link is at : https://www.facebook.com/groups/866039746800973/

Please follow our post “How to Germinate Strawberry seeds” for tips ! 🙂

By mid May 2015, we had 60 strawberry seedlings thriving in our bedroom. The kids and I are now strawberries “farmers”!!! 🙂

Grow strawberry from seeds in Singapore

Strawberry baby plants from seeds in our SG bedroom 🙂

From these tiny sprouts, more leaves appeared. They were such pretty seedlings, and this was the first time we seen strawberries’ seedlings!

The question of  whether our strawberry plants can really really bear fruits troubles me constantly 🙁  I told my daughter we would take them as far as we can, not wanting to disappoint her with false hopes.

Strawberry seedling

Our 1 month old strawberry seedling

 

GROW WITH NATURAL FERTILIZER

 

Strawberry seedling at 3 months

3 months old Strawberry seedling has an emerging crown

As we would be away during the June holidays, and not wanting to bother my elderly parents too much, we decided to give half of our 60 seedlings to seasoned gardeners in Singapore.

Strawberries seedlings shared with Singapore gardeners

Sharing our strawberry seedlings with Alex Ng, who successfully grew grapes along his corridor 🙂

Due to over-watering, pests had invaded our soil when we returned home after the June break.

PESTS TRAPS FOR INDOOR GARDENS

I decided to change the soil instead of applying pesticide, and took the opportunity to look at strawberry’s roots.

strawberry plant roots

3 months old strawberry plant has an emerging crown and long roots

 

Strawberry seedling has long roots

Close Up look at strawberry roots – very long and taper

Please follow post on “How to Transplant Strawberry Plants” for tips!

By the 4th month, strawberry plants became hardier.

They are drought resistant and need less water. At this time, the soil should be more acidic. Yeh Gerald from Urban Farmers (Singapore) Facebook’s group, advised to add used ground coffee to the soil.

Strawberry seedling stages

4th month strawberry seedling

 

Strawberry plant length at 4 months

Strawberry plant at 4th month is 29cm

As the strawberry plants grew, space to grow them at my only sunny window in the apartment was running out.

Strawberries from seeds

Crowded Table top – strawberry seedlings!!

For us, with limited sun, our best solution is to climb upwards!

All our vertical towers are recycled from used plastic water bottles and painted white to reflect heat away from the plants.

Strawberry farm in Singapore bedroom

Strawberry plants covered our windows and filled our table  space!

I am guessing that my daughter is the only kid in school who can say she is sleeping and studying in a strawberry garden in tropical Singapore!

On Sept 20 2015, when the strawberries were five months old, flowers buds were found on our the strawberry plants. A couple of days later, these flowers bloom.

POLLINATE LIKE A BEE!

We were really happy to see them. Fruiting seem possible at this stage.

Strawberry plant flowers

Our first glimpse of a strawberry plant’s flower

Two legged bees were put to work, pollinating these flowers with a paint brush. A friend from our gardening group, Ms. Regina Fok, send us a link with information on how to do this.

Summer presented a video in YouTube to show how we pollinated ours.

This is my theory. In Singapore, because of high humidity, we cannot relied exclusively on natural elements like wind or bees (which we don’t have in our room) to pollinate strawberries’ flowers.

Self Pollinate Strawberry flowers

Human Bee Shona pollinating strawberry flowers in Singapore

The best chance to see fruits is to lend a human’s helping hand.

When pollination is successful, the petals dropped within the day and its bald head started to face downwards. Strawberry’s petals will darken and looked bruise before shedding.

Self pollinated strawberry flower

Day after self pollination (Sept 21 2015) –

Two or more flowers may bloom on the same stem, although the rate of successful pollination was not uniform.

Self pollinated strawberry flowers

Self Pollinated strawberry flower on the right  has shed all petals,begin to fruit.

stages of strawberry fruit growth

On the right, flower has shed all its petals and begin fruiting journey. On the left, a fruit becoming more developed.

Fruiting process start as soon as petals are dropped and the flower’s bud drooped down. This happened within a week instead of months as we expected.

Strawberry plant baby is really ugly!

First stage of strawberry fruit development

First stage of strawberry fruit – flower lost its petals, head drooped downward

Second stage of strawberry fruit development

Second stage of strawberry fruit development – flesh and seeds are green

Third stage of strawberry fruit development

Third stage of strawberry fruit development – seeds began to redden

4th stage of strawberry fruit development

4th stage of strawberry fruit development – seeds redden further while flesh remained light green

5th stage of strawberry fruit development

An unexpected surprise – strawberry fruit flesh turned from light green to white while seeds remained red

6th stage of strawberry fruit development

Pink blush on strawberry fruit’s white flesh overnight

Last strawberry fruit development stage

A recognizable red strawberry fruit at last!

From the beginning, we love to use only natural fertilizer to feed our strawberries, even making our own KELP fertilizer . 

This story shared on TEDx stage on May 28 2016. 🙂

Thank you, TEDxPickering Street for the honour to share our story.

 

All the videos here are written and presented by children, using their own words.

Summer was 11 years old and she is our spokesperson for the English communities. Shona was 8 years old, and she usually represented in Japanese (Year 2015).

Our story in a 2018 article by Eudora Chua on this experience with the children’s voices! We looked back on how we began this journey and what life goals achieved and joys it brought us.

They enjoyed making these how-to videos and sharing our experience.

We hope you enjoyed them too.

PS. This is how we grow 50 -60 strawberry plants at home !! :))

August 7 2016 – We harvested our second variety of strawberries. The children and I love these Heirloom Pineapple strawberries even more than the red variety! 🙂 Check out why they are so special at the link.

Grow strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2017 Bedroom Gardens

 

WORKSHOPS and Heirloom strawberry seeds are available !