The World of Alpine Strawberries

Watching me trying to haul away an overwhelming arm-load of edible gardening books from the library must be a comical sight.  In the moment I always tell myself that I got too many again and that next time I’ll only get a few (yeah right).  I am so fortunate to have an enormous, well-equiped library near my house (they have a great weekly puppet show and story time for my daughter as well).  So this weeks’ haul included a standout piece called, The Food Lover’s Garden, by Mark Diacono.  His philosophy is that one should grow unique, fascinating edibles that are either too expensive or unavailable in the grocery store or farmer’s market.  His book narrows down his top picks in all categories of edibles, including mulberries, fuchsia (yes, in the right variety), chevril, artichokes, daylilies and oca, to name a few.  Of course he also includes a unique, tempting recipe for each food.

In theory, I agree with his argument.  Potatoes and carrots are inexpensive and easily accessible (even organic), but I don’t think I’ll stop growing them any time soon. I still love their fresh, flavorful qualities.  Plus, even your carrots and potatoes can be unique, such as the Cosmic Purple carrots and blue potatoes that are growing in my backyard.  Diacono attempts to dispel the notion that rare edible foods are somehow unappetizing or nearly impossible to grow.  Subconsciously we reason that if Goji berries were delicious and relatively easy to grow that they would be on the produce stand.  Not necessarily.

After plowing through the highlights, one item stood out in my mind as something I’d like to try: Alpine Strawberries.  When I miraculously found a packet of their seeds (the Mignonette variety, which is an improved cultivar of ‘Renee de Valee’ – an old heirloom variety – and bears fruit that are larger, sweeter and more deeply flavored than other alpines) at my favorite specialty nursery last week, it was as if the gardening heavens had aligned and I would be savoring these little cuties for years to come.  Hopefully.

Diacono eloquently describes: “Alpine Strawberries may be my favorite of all strawberries.  These fingernail-sized berries are full of that sweet strawberry flavor but have an almondy, vanilla undertone absent in their larger cousins.  And although I love the firmness of summer strawberries, alpines seduce you with their tendency to dissolve on the tongue.  You hardly feel them, they’re so soft.  Perfectly ripe, a handful feels like clouds of strawberry condensing on your tongue.”

Imagine the sweetest, most complex baby strawberry dissolving on your tongue…One of the many great benefits of these beauties is their extended harvest season from mid spring to late fall.  They also turn great fall hues when the cold comes.  They prefer full sun but will still do well in part shade.  As a rule I’d heard that growing strawberries from seed was trying due to the haphazard germination rate and lengthy wait for the first sprouting.  It just so happens that Alpines are relatively easy to grow from seed.  Just make sure not to sow too deeply, as these are probably the most miniature seeds you’ll ever handle.  Barely cover with a thin layer of soil.  The seed packet says 1/8″, so you get the idea.  Keep moist during the first few weeks.  I sowed mine only 5 days ago and I already spotted my first seedling!

“Mignonette” Alpine Strawberry seedling.

My plan is to tuck in these little bushes (sans runners) in and among my entire veggie garden.  I’m looking forward to tasting something I’ve never experienced before, miles away from the generic.

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