Good things take time. Every year, the strawberries from the Val Martello valley prove very clearly that it is worth the wait. As is well known, not only the sweetest strawberries come from this high alpine side valley of Val Venosta, but also those with the most intense strawberry scent. For consumers from South Tyrol and the entire northern Italian region, the captivating scent is a beguiling harbinger of the wonderful aromas that are contained directly in the fruit. The visually so appealing flesh of the mountain fruit harbours these mountain aromas with care until they then create the usual taste explosion à la "Elsanta" in the mouth of the connoisseur. "Elsanta" is the most grown strawberry variety at the altitudes of Val Martello, which range from 900 m up to 1,800 m above sea level. The plants of this popular variety thrive quite uncomplicatedly in every home garden, but the alpine climate in the Val Martello valley allows them to grow particularly well here, probably to their highest possible quality. Periods of heat are still the exception here and "Elsanta" appreciates this fact particularly well. The days in the alpine valley are strongly spoiled by the sun, but due to the higher sea level, temperatures are much easier to bear than elsewhere. This provides the necessary sugar in the fruit. Thanks to cool nights, the sweetness is joined by intense alpine flavours and the clear mountain water from the Ortles/Cevedale massif ensures pronounced juiciness in the glacier fruit.
"Sounds very simple, but it takes a lot of sensitivity and expertise on the part of us strawberry farmers to bring these magnificent fruits to the consumer's table between June and September," reports Tobias Fleischmann from Val Martello. Despite optimal climatic conditions in this side valley of Val Venosta, the strawberry plant needs protection in many ways. Traditionally, the farmers of Val Martello still grow the coveted fruit directly in the humus-rich soil and not on raised beds. The buds from which the fruit develops are very sensitive to frost. Spreading straw can help. So-called tunnel roofs can be used to protect against heavy rain and hail. Straw around the plants also helps the ripening fruit.
"As soon as the first green fruits grow from the blossoms and their weight makes the fruit stalks bend, the straw provides a soft base and protects against fungi and various diseases as well as mould. It's a lot of work, but it pays off," Tobias explains.
For decades, his family has been growing the coveted strawberries from the Tasahof farm at 1,200 m up to 1,800 m. The plants have to be replaced with new ones every 3-4 years. This is the time the plants will give a sufficient yield. So every four years a strawberry field becomes a forage meadow and a forage meadow becomes a new strawberry field. The new plants are planted by hand. In order to be able to harvest at different altitudes at different times, Tobias plants both in autumn and in spring. In this way, the overwintered plants bear their first fruit as early as June and the plants planted in spring about 7-8 weeks later. This is the farmer's know-how Tobias is talking about, which can never be 100% mature.
"Because the worldwide climate change is already noticeable here as well due to weather caprices. “Elsanta" is still the most popular strawberry variety in the valley. But that could change soon. The ripening of the fruit can also be delayed by weeks if the weather is too moody," Tobias explains.
"The early bird catches the worm": This applies to strawberries both for watering during the vegetation phase of the plants and for harvesting the fruits. In the morning, the red fruits are not so sensitive, but the manual work is still challenging and must be done carefully. Experience shows that you share the first harvest aisles with cheeky birds that, just like humans, can hardly wait to peck at the tempting fruit. But since the unspoilt alpine valley has specialised in the production of strawberries on a great many hills, nature and man benevolently share the product of labour without really coming to blows.
"A strawberry plant wants to be bedded airily and be able to dry quickly if it rains. With the straw bedding, you can avoid unpopular waterlogging. The laid-out straw also keeps the fruits and leaves of the strawberry plant high and thus somewhat off the ground," Tobias explains.
The great empathy with which Tobias and his family look after their strawberries is also demonstrated by the Fleischmann family's current project. Besides growing strawberries, raspberries, cherries and cauliflower, the family also has some livestock on the farm. Cows for milk production and...sheep.
"Their wool remained unused until now, then we came up with the innovative idea in terms of a possible circular economy. Instead of throwing the wool away, we process it into mats as a base for our strawberries," Tobias proudly explains with a gleam in his eyes.
As long as innovation and enthusiasm for agriculture go hand in hand, there will be fresh strawberries from the Val Martello valley every year in the farm shop of the South Tyrolean Strawberry World in Martello, in the retail shops of the Val Venosta fruit and vegetable producers and also on the fruit shelves of the many Italian wholesale markets and supermarkets. The cultivated strawberry originally came from America but has been celebrated here in the Val Martello valley for decades as a real “culture of strawberry”. Flavourful and fragrant with firm and shiny red fruits in the contrasting green sepal of "Elsanta" & Co.