Skip to content

How to grow strawberries in northern Thailand

January 2, 2011

Good morning

The first morning of 2011 began nicely, 19°C at 08, a cup of coffee and soft birdsong. I checked the statistics of the Dokmai Dogma blog, summarising that since we began in March 2010, we have had 10800 views, and a 68% increase in viewing frequency in just one month. In December Dokmai Dogma surpassed 2000 views a month. On New Year’s Eve somebody posted two weird links on our blog, and somebody tried to change our password earlier, so we have now changed the password to prevent highjacking. We let WordPress investigate who did that to us.

The origin of the strawberry

The strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa, Rosaceae) is not natural. It is a man-made piece of art, originally composed of a hybrid of the two American wild strawberries  Fragaria chiloensis and F. virginiana. F. chiloensis grows along the American west coast, I have seen it as far north as coastal Oregon. The first strawberry appeared as a mistake, i.e. the two species mentioned above were grown near each other in a botanical garden in Brittany, France, and they spontaneously hybridised around 1740.

Five plants of F. chiloensis had been brought from Chile to Europe already in 1714, after a six months long journey at sea. The French gentleman who loved plants so much was a certain Amédée-François Frézier, whose surname was derived from ‘fraise’, i.e. the French word for wild strawberry. His family had used this name since the 10th century, so him being the accidental father of the strawberry had nothing to do with his name.

Most gardeners in the temperate region have had experience from growing strawberries, and we know it is very easy to propagate them by cloning. Simply detach the baby plants formed on the runners (stolons) and plant them in new areas. To make new varieties, one needs to make new crossings, or look for spontaneous mutants. This is art!

How to grow strawberries in Thailand

Currently strawberries hardly thrive here in the Chiang Mai valley, due to the combination of heat and moisture in the rainy season. At around 1000 meters the climate is much cooler and therefore more suitable. Still, in the tropics the solar intensity is very strong at zenith, so to prevent evaporation one can cover the soil with plastic to suppress weeds and maintain moisture. However, the plastic breaks down into ugly fragments after one season, and the airtight system may make fungi thrive, so then the grower needs to fumigate.

A better organic way is to make raised beds of soil in order to break up the flatness of the surface which lose water more easily. The raised beds should then be covered with Dipterocarpus tuberculatus leaves which has the benefits of the plastic but also allows gas exchange reducing the problem with fungus. A mountain is not only preferred for a cooler climate, but also for the wind which reduces dampness. For watering, the commercial Thai growers do not use sprinklers, as water on the leaves may cause fungal infection. Instead they let a long plastic hose with holes water the roots of each individual plants. This also reduces the need for water and the costs for running pumps.

Many Thai strawberries are quite tasteless. This may be due to premature harvesting, as this is still a fairly new crop. It may also be due to restricted use of tasty cultivars. In the tropics, we can only use day-neutral cultivars, i.e. plants which make flowers and subsequently fruits spontaneously. Many tasty cultivars either need increased or decreased day-lengths (photoperiods) to stimulate the formation of flowers. Research indicate that compost is important for the development of aromas, so a production based on artificial fertilizers might be plain. With proper plant selection I am sure that in the future there will be local Thai cultivars with full-bodied flavours. The western strawberries have had 250 years of improvement efforts.

Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden

Using Dipterocarpus leaves is similar to using straw in the west. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, the fruits do not touch ground where they may rot quickly. One strawberry flower carries many female organs (pistils), and the result from fertilization is an aggregate fruit with many seeds (achenes). The edible part is the enlarged and juicy flowering stem (receptacle). In pineapple and jackfruit, many flowers mature into fruits which fuse with each other, making a multiple fruit.

Raised strawberry beds with irrigation hoses and Dipterocarpus leaves. Growing strawberries in the mountains demands terraces. To prevent erosion Vetiver grass (Chrysopogon (Vetiveria) zizanioides, Poaceae) is planted along the terrace edges (behind the blue parasol).

About these ads
5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2012 10:48 PM

    Great post , I want to try and grow strawberrys down near Khon Kaen any thing you can help with ?

    • March 4, 2012 9:52 AM

      Dear Andy,

      The strawberries generally need a fairly ‘cool’ climate, relatively speaking. The day neutral strains are still inferior to the temperate strains which have had hundreds of years of selection, although new strains seem promising. Visiting an organic strawberry plantation such as in Samoeng west of Chiang Mai would help you with many ideas. They do have one delicious strain.

      Good luck!

      Eric

  2. July 24, 2012 4:29 PM

    Do you know of any place to buy good strawberry plants in Bangkok? I’d like to try growing them in Khao Yai. We have a place at about 500m, but it’s in a valley so tends to be quite cool plus a constant wind to keep the moisture down. If not, how would you suggest I start the process? Thanks. TP

    • July 24, 2012 9:26 PM

      For available strawberry cultivars I should contact Kasetsart University in Bangkok. Then I should use my own tongue to select the best day neutral cultivars. I know they have some promising ones in Samoeng outside Chiang Mai. Next step is to study a real cultivation. Although it is essentially quite simple, local adaptations and tricks will save you time and money. Cool is good.

      Good luck!

      Eric

  3. August 22, 2012 1:18 PM

    i am planting strawberry in cameron highlands, malaysia,,can u suggest me through email to get some strawberry experts growers from thailand to work for me ..I want to grow sweeter and bigger strawberrie. please email me at ; mharith28@yahoo.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 470 other followers

%d bloggers like this: