Some of you will remember Dunleath Estates Ltd. used to grow strawberries for PYO, but stopped some years ago. We grew them for super markets as well. They would take all the strawberries we could produce, but for many years we could not make money out of it; mainly because super markets set the price. Remember this next time there is a 2 for the price of 1! It’s the producer who pays this reduction in price.
As you can see from the photos today we still grow strawberries in the Walled Garden, but just for our own consumption and one of my favourites is the Alpine strawberry. We grow them in bags on stilts so we don’t have to bend down to pick. This is a luxury, but at my age a necessary one. These little darlings are so amazing. We bought the plants about 5 years ago and unlike the commercial strawberries we’ve not changed them since. Commercial varieties grown for super markets are changed after setting fruit 4 times. That means two years, because the varieties super markets choose are plants that fruit twice in each season. These cultivars are selected by super markets because of their look and because they travel well. You can get lucky and buy strawberries from a grower who knows his stuff and can grow them with flavour too. That was JT’s job in those days. He knew how to grow them tasty and ready for that long haul across the water.
The Alpine strawberries fruit heavily from late April till September, as long as you pick them regularly and cut off the runners every week. In the later autumn months they still bear fruit, but not so heavily. We’ve had alpine strawberries for Christmas and into February. Not in quantities that we could make jam from, but enough for both my husband and I to have them on our breakfast.
As you can see these little gems have started flowering and this means that true to form they’ll be producing lovely sweet fruit by late April. Then we had a setback, JT discovered the irrigation system which also carries the fertiliser was not working properly. Alarm! However, he is a clever man and after getting the technical drawings of the pump, he was able to work out why the dose of fertiliser was not being taken. He even managed to find the spare parts in the old office by the glass houses where people used to come for the PYO. The irrigation system is now up and running with fertiliser. JT saves the day, yet again.
At the height of the season we have quantities of Alpine strawberries and BD makes the most delicious jam with them. He mixes them with a conventional cultivar. The Alpine strawberry has more than a hint of banana flavour about it, which is a little surprising in a strawberry jam. BD adds about 10% of an ordinary variety, this just lifts our Alpine Strawberry Conserve into a league of its own. This fabulous variety of jam can of course be acquired by the public, but only if you bring a group to take a tour of the house and when it’s sold out, it’s sold out. Till my little stars really get going in June. That is the joy of the seasons.
P.S. Seriously, if you would like a tour of the house, just go back to the main web site and follow the link to groups. See you there………….