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

White Strawberries

Featured

In 2017, we began new exploration of white wild Alpine strawberries varieties in KRATKY (passive hydroponic) that were not common commercially and too fragile to ship, thus we had to grow them from seeds.  Some of their taste profiles were described as intensely aromatic, mostly sweet with different variant of interesting flavors, such as pineapple, cotton candy, rose syrup or caramel.

As we explored more widely and tasted the fruits of our labor, we discovered not every white (or yellow) strawberries carried this special taste.

Now we understood why some growers classified the special ones as “gourmet” and others as “common”. Seeds prices were higher and sources to buy were more limited with the gourmet range.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in KRATKY

Strawberries without soil

True white strawberries belonged to 2 groups only.

  1. Alpine (Fragaria Vesca, originated in Europe)
  2. Beach (Fragaria Chiloensis, originated in Chile, also known as South American or coastal strawberries)

Both the alpine and beach strawberries are wild species.

White strawberries are white because they lacked the protein FRA a1 which made red strawberries red. People who are allergic to red strawberries have no problems eating white strawberries because of the absence of this protein.

An example of white strawberries sold in ISETAN (Japanese shopping store) on January 8 2016. It is not far fetched to sell fifteen pieces of gourmet white strawberries for Singapore $200, about USD $150.

Photo : Joyce Ho, January 8, in Isetan (Japanese Supermarket)

Photo : Joyce Ho

After growing our own wild white strawberries since 2016, we now know that these supermarkets’ strawberries are likely hybrid. Heirloom wild strawberries are typically small and soft flesh. Once harvested, they are unlikely to last a day. What they lacked in size, these varieties more than compensate with their aromatic intense flavor and unique taste.

A sought after and commercial popular white hybrid variety is Pineberry (white flesh, red seeds), a cross between Fragaria and Ananassa varieties. This cannot be grown from seeds, as Pineberry is a cultivated hybrid, thus please do not buy pineberry seeds online.

List of some Wild Alpine White varieties –

  1. Krem
  2. Pineapple Crush
  3. White Delight
  4. White Giant
  5. White Solemacher
  6. White Soul

We started our exploration in 2015 with WHITE SOUL variety in soil and then late 2017 liquid base.

2018

With the experience gained from Pineapple Strawberries (yellow varieties) in 2016 and 2017, we had more confidence to try more white strawberry varieties. On January 20, we sowed four new types and they germinated on January 26 after 6 days, using new germination method.

One of these new varieties belonged to the gourmet category with taste profile of caramel and pineapple. These seeds are no longer on sale.

Grow white strawberries in Singapore

January 27 2018 – tiny sprout spotted!

See how tiny they were when they began this journey in Singapore!

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

So Tiny

White strawberries varieties are considerably smaller and slower to grow than the common red varieties.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 April 27 – 80 days old

And like children, they grew up!

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 July 2

White strawberries have the characteristics red stems of normal red garden varieties. From germinating through growth stages here, we are breeding them in natural SG environment.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 July 15

Our hope is to grow more varieties of white strawberries and built a portfolio of gourmet hydro plug-ins for household gardeners and high tech systems. Some of our seeds collected over the years are no longer available for sale internationally.

A Comparative journal from USA, with Regina Fok

To collect growth data on white strawberries from our seeds. Thank you, Regina!

Her seeds germinated in 9 days in an indoor environment of 23C. Similar to our white strawberries seedlings, her seedlings were small as well.

Grow white strawberries from seeds

April 8 2016

White Soul strawberries from seeds

May 21 2016 – 2 months old

Grow white strawberries from seeds in Singapore

White strawberries variety from SG Strawberries seeds

The size of first harvest fruits are same as ones grown in tropical Singapore.

Grow white strawberries from seeds in Singapore

White strawberries are alpines

As there is not much information available on white strawberries in our tropical zone, we are hoping to record more data as we grow them in our blog. 🙂

THE UNEXPECTED CURVE BALLS  (CHALLENGES) 

White strawberries are by far, one of the most difficult to start from seeds. However, the more challenges they present, the deeper we learned how to grow them.

Whether in high tech systems, Kratky (liquid base) or soil, this knowledge is invaluable , especially for gourmet strawberries’ recovery SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) because plants and seeds are now scarce to our region.

With this variety, we experienced how every part of the plant can “break away” and how to save them when it happened. The following is a list of challenges for growing white strawberries plants out of their natural zone.

Leaves Wilting

Grow White Soul strawberries from seeds

Wilting Leaves

White strawberries are extremely delicate and fragile. Transplanting them need extra care. The leaves suffer rot easily, thus its a good idea not to get the leaves wet and stay wet. Surviving seedlings are slower to grow. They become hardy after the fourth month.

Roots Separation

The roots sometimes dropped off for no reason.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 August 02

With limited roots, strawberry plant can still stand upright. They also recovered fast with the right remedy. Sign of successful recovery is first more roots mass and then new leaf growth from the crown (mid section of the plant).

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 August 2 – Root-less

It is possible to regenerate new roots when this happened for hydroponic plants.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 August 28

Crown Separation

The strawberry top can breakaway from its crown like this.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2019 February 28

In the past, when this happened, it would rang a death knell for this plant.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

Separated from Crown

However, even with a tiny part of roots remaining, it is possible to revive a strawberry plant.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

Tiny root part

With recovery SOP, now we could recover these plants as long as they were healthy before the separation, that is not pests stressed etc. In 7 days, new roots showed.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2019 March 05

Once on the mend, roots gained mass quickly. This was the progress between March 5 to the 14th.

Grow White Strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2019 March 14

A clear signal from a recovered plant is when new leaf showed at the crown and color returned to the stem.

Fruits of our labour

Uphill battles won ! Finally we harvested fruits from February 2018 plants!

We are always grateful for these small fruits after so many trials at every stage.

Grow white strawberries from seeds

2018 Aug 01 – Caramel + Pineapple

Grow white strawberries from seeds in Singapore

2018 August 01 –

Grow white strawberries from seeds in Singapore

Seeds harvest

Do check in to our SHOP for seeds or net-cups ! Seedlings had to be pre-ordered due to limited space.

Grow gourmet strawberries

Bulk Delivery of hydro plugs

With the compilation of 2 years of strawberries growth data in our tropical zone, we discovered new ways to grow them better. Future strawberries will be breed this way, with zero carbon footprint, yet tough enough to fruit in natural environment. In addition, our hydro seedlings can be easily plugged in high tech systems or stand bare in Kratky.

White Strawberries Summary –

  1. Perennial plant
  2. Heavy feeder, need Phosphorous and Potassium like most strawberries
  3. Minimum 6 hours light, prefers shade over full sun
  4. Well drained loamy soil
  5. Moderate watering, preferred drip irrigation
  6. Temperature not above 29 degree Celsius 
  7. More delicate seedlings than red varieties
  8. Fruits were slower to develop in natural environment
  9. Suffered heat stress more often, not recommended outdoor
  10. Pineapple scent permeates the whole plant during fruiting stage
  11. Mature plants are 6 – 8 inches tall, Width 10 – 12 inches across
  12. Suitable for USA zone 4 – 8 (For reference, Singapore is beyond Zone 13 )