Why are my strawberries small?

Strawberries — Everything You Need To Know About Strawberries

Fred SkebergFollow Jul 10, 2018 · 10 min read

Time to dig deep into a single ingredient again. This time the focus is fully on strawberries. What is it, how does it grow, how to use it and everything else there is to know about this beautiful and delicious berry.

Strawberries is another one of my favorite berries, but to be honest most berries are favorites of mine. They just taste amazing, look beautiful and are just as delicious to eat as they are or to use in cooking. This article will start out with me trying to sort out all the facts about them but if you want to go straight to cooking with them you can scroll to the bottom of the post to find a few great recipes with strawberries.

I never really investigated more into the world of strawberries so I thought it was time to do that. Let’s find out everything we can about this lovely little berry.

What are strawberries

The trouble starts right out of the gate. There are different types of strawberries. What we get when we shop in the supermarket is the Garden Strawberry also known as Fragaria Ananassa. This is a group of hybrid species of Fragaria.

The group Fragaria collects all varieties of strawberries including both the commercially grown Garden Strawberry and other species that if found in a market is called wild strawberries.

If we start by looking at the Fragaria group there are 20 described species. Besides those, there are plenty of hybrids and cultivars. The species of strawberries can be found in most parts of the world like the Fragaria Yezoensis from Northeast Asia, Fragaria Daltoniana from the Himalayas, Fragaria Bifera from Europe and many others. For most species, there are sub-species, hybrids and cultivars. Especially within Fragaria Ananassa since this is the most commercially grown species.

To sum up the species we have the main group Fragaria with 20 described species, one of these is the Fragaria Ananassa which we know as Garden Strawberry.

Is strawberries a berry?

No, it’s not. At least not from a botanical view. This discussion is always a bit tricky because it’s easy to mix what is a botanical term and how we use and call fruits and berries. A good example on that is the fact that both tomatoes and bananas are technically berries but we call the tomato a vegetable and the banana a fruit.

The strawberry is of course a berry in the way we use it. If we get technical about it they are not true berries. It’s an aggregate accessory fruit. This means that the fruit flesh is grown from the receptacle and not from the plants ovaries.

You can easily see this difference with other berries is you look at a strawberry, the seeds sit on the outside of the berry and not on the inside like it does in a blueberry for example. While we are talking blueberries I think you should check out this article.

So let’s sum up. The strawberry is a not technically a berry but that’s how we use it, so if you not a botanist, who cares?

How are strawberries grown

You can plant the berries with seeds but this method is mostly used by homegrowers. In commercial growing of strawberries are made using root plants or plugs from so called runners. This is the way strawberries grow themselves and if you grow them in your garden you’ll find out quickly that strawberries tend to take all the space they can.

At home, you can grow them in a regular vegetable land but also in pots, greenhouse and even indoors with the help of LED lights.

Commercially grown berries are mostly grown in plasticulture system. With this method the soil beneath the plants are covered in plastic to prevent erosion and weeds, this also keep the soil warmer which helps growth.

They are also grown in a similar method but instead of plastic hay is used, this can be combined with plastic tunnels, which is similar to greenhouses to make the season longer and start earlier in spring.

The season for strawberries is short. To help make the season longer most commercial growers have multiple variations of strawberries in production for the season to be as long as possible.

Harvesting of strawberries

Strawberries is a delicate fruit so harvesting is done by hand. Unlike many other types of fruits and berries, not all berries ripen at once so the plants are often picked daily. The caps are left on the berries and often with a piece of the stem as well.

They do not continue to ripen after picking so they need to ripen fully while attached to the plant. The berries are only rinsed with water right before consumption.

When berries are harvested for processing like jam they are washed and sorted in the production plants.

Strawberry varieties

As I already mentioned the main type of strawberry that we can find in stores today is the Fragaria ananassa. But there are a number of varieties within this one. If you Google strawberry varieties you might find lists with hundreds of different types. All of them have their own pros and cons. Some don’t grow runners, some ripen late, ripen early, as more or less resistant to different diseases and so on.

The most common ones grown in the US are Honeoye, Earliglow, Allstar, Ozark Beauty, Chandler, Jewel, Seascape and a few others. The names of strawberries might vary between languages and countries so if you’re on the hunt to buy strawberry plants for your garden the best way is to ask in a local gardening shop. They usually have a few different types available.

Green, White, Blue and Black Strawberries

If you search the internet you might stumble upon strawberry seeds with weird colors like green, white, blue and even black strawberries. As far as I found there is no such thing as blue or black berries, this is just someone trying to make a quick buck online so don’t buy them. You will not be growing strawberries that will be blue or black.

Green strawberries do exist, they have been quite popular in restaurants the last few years. But green strawberries is not a species on its own. It’s simply unripe strawberries. Personally not a favorite of mine but try it if you’re curious.

White strawberries however do exist. They have been cultivated to not develop the red color when they ripen. This is because most allergies from strawberries is caused by the red color. Look for plants and seeds in your local garden shop. The growing of white strawberries aren’t very high yet so you need to be lucky to find them in stores.

So to conclude green strawberries are unripe berries, white berries exist and blue and black berries are made up.

How long have we’ve been eating strawberries?

For a long time, that’s the short answer. The wild strawberry was cultivated as early as the 1300’s in France, by then it was by King Charles V, I’m guessing he didn’t do the actual plant work though. Then it was plants from forest wild berries that were used for cultivation. The berry was cultivated in a similar way in Chile until 1551 when the Europeans arrived and messed things up. It was most likely grown for a long time before that.

The cultivation of today’s garden strawberry or Fragaria ananassa as we are talking about started in France in the late 1800’s, before that it was all about cultivating the wild strawberry species.

Health benefits

Like many other fruits and vegetables strawberries are healthy. A great source for Vitamin C and a number of smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals. If you Google health benefits of strawberries you’ll find that this berry seems to be able to solve most things. Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, lowering cholesterol and many others. Problem is that most of these are not scientifically proven. So when it comes to the health part I always try to go by my own homemade version. All fruits and vegetables are good for you, just don’t over consume them.

That’s about it for the health part, eat them because they taste great, the health part is just a bonus.

How sweet are they?

Strawberries are quite sweet, fresh ones have about 8% of sugar which is fairly high. I put together a short list of a few fruits and berries below so you have something to compare to. Naturally, the sugar amount is always a little different depending on the type of berry and how ripe it is.

Sugar content in %

Strawberries 7.9%
Bilberreries 6.4%
Tomatoes 2.8%
Red Apple 10.3%
Grapes 15.1%
Carrots 6.2%
Peaches 7.8%
Raspberries 4.1%

So with this, I think I covered the essentials when it comes to strawberries, now let’s take a look at the most important thing, how to eat and cook with strawberries.

How to cook with strawberries

Most of us simply eat strawberries as they are, what can beat some fresh strawberries with cream anyway, right? I’m quite conservative when it comes to this and most of the time that’s how I eat them. Fresh with cream or maybe like a jam with a few pancakes.

But you can make a few twists with strawberries. I picked out four recipes that I really like. Fresh strawberries with lime and Mascarpone cheese, a strawberry and rhubarb milkshake. Those are quite classic, to add something a bit more fun I also added a strawberry cocktail and marinated strawberries with goat cheese, all four recipes are delicious so do try them out.

All the recipes have been published here before and I just kept the essentials in the recipes here. For more photos and details use the link in each recipe name.

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar & goat cheese

Fresh strawberries
Balsamic vinegar
Goat cheese, chèvre
Black pepper

Cut the berries in half och quarters, add some balsamic vinegar and carefully combine. Let the strawberries marinate for half an hour. Cut the cheese in small bite size pieces. Add a piece of strawberry for each piece of cheese, add some freshly ground black pepper, serve.

Strawberries with Mascarpone Cheese Meringue and Lime

serves 4 as a dessert

500g / 18 oz fresh strawberries
150g / 5 oz Mascarpone cheese
1 tsp vanilla sugar, or extract
1 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 lime
12 meringues, store bought

Rinse and clean the strawberries and cut them in half or quarters. Whip the mascarpone with the milk and icing sugar and vanilla sugar using an electric whisk. It should have the texture of a more heavy whipped cream. If it gets too thick you can add a bit of extra milk.

Serve in bowls, start with adding the berries. Then add a big spoon or two of the Mascarpone cream, crush the meringue with you hands on top and then grate the lime on top. Serve.

Rhubarb Milkshake with Strawberries and Cream Cheese

Serves 4–6 persons as a dessert

For the poached rhubarb

8 stalks of rhubarb
2 dl / 0.85 cups white wine
2 dl / 0.85 cups water
1 dl / 0.4 cup sugar
1 vanilla pod
3–4 strawberries

Strawberry puré

10 fresh strawberries
2 tbsp sugar

For the shake

500g / 18 oz vanilla ice cream
200g / 7 oz cream cheese
2 dl / 0.85 cup milk
4–6 strawberries, for serving

Start with poaching the rhubarbs. First, rinse them and cut away any bad pieces. Then chop into smaller pieces. Bring water, white wine, sugar, strawberries and the vanilla bean to a boil. Add the rhubarb and leave to simmer under a lid for about ten minutes. Set aside and leave to cool.

Then make the strawberry puré, this is dripped onto the inner sides of the glass when serving the shake. It doesn’t add that much to the flavor but it looks very nice. Just blend the sugar and strawberries into a smooth puré using a blender or a handheld blender.

Now it’s time to make the shake. First, lift out the strawberries and rhubarb from the poaching liquid and add to a blender. Then add the ice cream and cream cheese and finally the milk. Mix for about one minute and then check the flavor. Add a little bit more milk or ice cream if you want to adjust the thickness.

Then drip some of the strawberry puré onto the insides of the glasses and then pour the rhubarb milkshake into glasses. Decorate with a few slices of fresh strawberries. Serve.

Strawberry Ice Pop Cocktail

8 big fresh strawberries
4 tbsp white sugar

Add the berries and sugar to a mixer. Mix until you have a smooth sort of strawberry smoothie. Freeze.

The Ice Pop Cocktail

1 strawberry ice pop
2 oz / 6 cl white rum
1 oz / 3 cl lime juice
1 oz / 3 cl simple syrup
1 strawberry
1 slice of lime
lime zest

ice
glass
spoon
shaker or mixing glass
sieve

Add white rum, lime juice and simple syrup to the shaker. Stir with ice for 30 seconds. Cut the strawberry in a few pieces, add them and a slice of lime to the glass. Strain the drink into the glass. Grate a little bit of lime zest on top, add the strawberry ice pop.

Strawberry season is one of our favorite seasons! But how do you know if you’re picking the “right” strawberries? Are they ripe enough? Are they too ripe? How can you tell? Use these simple tips to pick the perfect berries every time.

How to Choose Strawberries

{Referral links are used in this post.}

There is just something about the smell of a box of fresh, ripe strawberries that makes me so happy! How do you know if you’re getting the best strawberries you can find? Here are a few easy tips for choosing strawberries at your grocery store, farmer’s market, or you-pick farm.

Look for bright red berries. Strawberries don’t continue to ripen after they are picked, so what you see is what you get. Look for berries that a bright red from top to bottom. Berries like the ones in the photo below, with a lot of yellow or green, will stay that color and won’t taste as sweet as a ripe strawberry.

Look for fresh green leaves. After the berries are picked, the green leaves will start to dry and wilt. The longer the berries have been picked, the more “wilty” the leaves will look. Fresh green leaves mean that the berries are fresh, too.

Look for plump berries. If the berries are starting to look “dry” or shriveled, they are getting old.

Size doesn’t matter. Different varieties of strawberries grow to different sizes. Weather and growing conditions can also affect the size of strawberries. Smaller berries are often sweeter, but bigger berries are delicious, too!

Look for no signs of mold. If you can see one moldy berry in the box, there are probably a few more. Mold on the berries means they are starting to rot. Even if most of the berries in the box aren’t moldy, they are all probably starting to go bad.

Look at the berries you can see from the top and the bottom of the box. Sometimes, a “bad” berry can be hiding at the bottom of the box. Make sure all the berries you can see look red, ripe, and fresh.

Free Printable for How to Choose Strawberries

Click here to download this free printable. Keep it handy when you head out to the grocery store!

It doesn’t get much easier than that! What is your favorite way to use strawberries?

Get everything you ever wanted to know about strawberries in this episode of My Fearless Kitchen TV.

Enjoy!

3 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Your Kitchen

  • What Do the Codes on Produce Mean?
  • Spring Fruits & Vegetables in Season – free printable!
  • How to Store Strawberries

3 Recipes to Try

  • Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream
  • Summer Berry Greek Yogurt Parfait
  • Slow Cooker Blueberry French Toast

Mock Strawberries

You may have noticed this little strawberry plant sprouting yellow blossoms in your yard and wondered where it might have come from, since you’re sure you didn’t plant it. Then you notice these juicy strawberries on it that look a bit different from actual strawberries since their seeds stick out so much more. You pick them and discover that they taste rather bland and are nothing like you expected. There’s a good chance that what you’ve just eaten is a mock strawberry. We’re going to go over this little, unexpected, and often unknown plant, but before we do, we want to tell you not to worry — you haven’t just poisoned yourself.

What’s a Mock Strawberry?

Mock strawberries are also known as Indian strawberries or snakeberries, depending on where you’re located. This name can be confusing for some because “snakeberry” is also the nickname of a poisonous plant in the nightshade family. This often leads people to believe that mock strawberries are toxic when not eaten in moderation.

Mock strawberry plants are decidedly invasive in nature. Scientifically, the plant is known as Duchesnea indica, but it’s also sometimes referred to as Potentilla indica. This genus is different from that of real strawberries, Fragaria, though they are both members of the rose family.

As you can see, they look just like strawberry plants (hence the name). They hug the ground, produce runners with solitary flowers that come up from their stems, and have leaves that mimic those of true strawberry plants. They are usually about two and a half inches tall, though they can be longer than a foot if you factor in the runners. Their flowers have five petals and are yellow in color, while their compound leaves have jagged edges like teeth. Both the stems and leaves appear hairy. This plant forms a fruit that looks like a spiky seeded strawberry but lacks the flavor and juiciness of the real thing. Some people claim that they taste like watermelon, but many others just find them bland.

Where Did They Come From?

Mock strawberries were initially found on the Indian subcontinent, which explains their species name indica. They were brought over to the United States to be used as ornamental plants, because they do make for some pretty ground cover when they’re in bloom. Due to their invasive nature, they can often pop up in areas where they haven’t been planted by gardeners. Squirrels and other animals often help these plants get around by transporting their seeds to new areas. In fact, they can be found pretty much all over the United States and Canada.

Uses of Mock Strawberries

The good news is that those mock strawberries you have popping up in your yard aren’t a complete waste. They are actually good for a few things. As we already mentioned, they make for great-looking ground cover. Ground cover (i.e. cover crops) helps keep your soil moist and pumps nutrients back into it after the growing season has ended. It also helps keep out unwanted weeds.

It’s important to note that mock strawberries are not poisonous. Some people even use the plant for medicinal purposes (it’s particularly popular in traditional Chinese medicine). For instance, you can make a poultice out of mock strawberries to treat eczema and other skin conditions.

Some people dry the plant’s leaves and make them into a tea. The berries are also great to use when you’re short on other varieties and in the middle of making jam or jelly, since their flavor likely won’t impede the taste of the berries you’re mainly using. Some even like making mock strawberries into a juice or mild jelly all on their own. In fact, 100 ml of mock strawberry juice contains an impressive 6.3 mg of Vitamin C.

Harvesting Mock Strawberries

You’ll want to collect mock strawberries just as you would regular strawberries. To protect your plants, you’ll want to be careful when removing ripe berries. Wait until they’re juicy red, appear bloated, bending back the base of the leaves around them (the calyx), and their seeds are spread out. You can then either wash them and try eating them or store them for a short period of time to use in your cooking later on. It’s often a good idea to wait to rinse them until you’re ready to eat or use them, since washing usually results in a faster rate of decay.

Now you have a better idea of what those little yellow strawberry-like plants are in your backyard. They may not have been the surprise strawberries you were hoping for, but for many, they still offer some nice benefits to both the yard and the kitchen.

Cornell University

The most common cause of nubby fruits is Tarnished Plant Bug feeding. However, frost injury, boron deficiency, and poor pollination also cause deformed berries. Nubbiness caused by tarnished plant bugs almost always occurs at the distal end of the berry. Deformity from other causes is not limited to the distal end. Note: The variety ‘Delmarvel’ develops nubby ends because, under certain conditions, the distal pistils appear to be infertile.

Tarnished plant bug

Tarnished plant bug, Lygus lineolaris, feeds on the flowers, causing the berries to deform when they grow (below). Feeding by nymphs causes the most severe damage, and a threshold of one nymph per every two flower clusters is sufficient to warrant treatment.

Adult tarnished plant bugs overwinter and lay eggs, but they do minimal damage to strawberry flowers in spring. Nymphs (below) cause the most injury. More tarnished plant bug information.

Frost injury

Light frost injury will sometimes cause deformed berries, but this is usually associated with blackened centers in at least some adjacent flowers (below). More frost damage information.

Boron deficiency

Boron is the most commonly deficient micronutrient in strawberry plantings as it is very prone to leaching. Boron deficiency causes many symptoms, but among the most obvious are deformed berries (below) …

… asymmetrical leaves (below) …

and stubby roots (below).

Suspected boron deficiencies can be verified with a foliar analysis done through Agro-One. More strawberry nutrient deficiency information.

Poor pollination

Poorly pollinated berries tend to be small with a rough, dimpled, seedy appearance similar to that of boron deficiency. More strawberry pollination information.

Deformed Strawberries and Some Important Truths

So it’s you wandering through the fruits and vegetables markets looking to buy strawberries. But wait, there’s something wrong. You see the regular strawberries at not so cheap prices and close to them you see strangely shaped strawberries sold at half price.

Are they any good? Why do strawberries get deformed, and what can be done about it? Read on to find out what causes deformed strawberries and whether or not you can eat the misshapen strawberries.

Why Do Strawberries Get Deformed? First of all, weird looking strawberries don’t necessarily mean they are inedible; it just means they’re weird looking strawberries.

But, yes, there is no doubt a reason for misshapen strawberries like these. There are three reasons for deformity in strawberries with a possible fourth put forward for discussion:

Poor pollination. The first reason is the most likely and has to do with lack of pollination. This can be discerned versus other types of deformity by fruit that has variable seed size.

The large seeds were pollinated and the small seeds were not. This happens more commonly in the spring after cool weather and frost protection in the form of row covers has limited bee activity.

Frost damage. Hand in hand with a lack of pollination and another reason for misshapen berries is frost injury. If you didn’t provide the strawberries with frost protection, light frost injury can cause deformities. This is diagnosed by examining flowers that are adjacent to the deformed berries. They will have blackened centers indicating frost injury.

Nutrient deficiency. Like all plants, strawberries need nutrients. Boron is one of the most commonly deficient micronutrient amongst strawberries, as it is prone to leaching.

While boron deficiency causes several symptoms, the most noticeable are deformed berries, asymmetrical leaves, and stubby roots. To verify a deficiency in boron, a leaf analysis is required.

Insect pests. Lastly, another reason for misshapen berries is bugs feeding on the fruit. Here to dispel the myth, bugs feeding on strawberries do not distort the fruit. It may cause bronzing near the stem end of the fruit, however./AgroWeb.org

How to Keep Bugs Off My Strawberries

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Strawberries are a popular fruit to plant in home gardens because they take up very little space, are beautiful to look at, and if taken care of properly, can yield plump juicy strawberries. Strawberries are susceptible to damage from bugs. Keeping bugs off your strawberry plants can be done organically with the use of natural household items, or with chemical insecticides. It is also important to plant strawberries properly to attain a healthy strawberry plant that will be less susceptible to pests.

Plant your strawberries in tgood soil. Talk to your local garden shop to find out if the soil in your area is conducive to growing strawberries. Add soil amendments to achieve a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Adding organic materials will achieve a rich soil for strawberries.

Choose a good location to plant your strawberries. Strawberries require good drainage and ample sunlight. Strawberries can be planted in pots, in flat ground or on a gentle slope. Strawberries resist pests better when they are not overcrowded. Avoid planting strawberries near tomato, potato or pepper plants. These plants attract fungus that can spread to strawberries.

Pull weeds as they appear in your strawberry garden. Weeds attract pests, which can damage your strawberry plants. Use mulch to prevent the growth of weeds.

Wash your strawberry plants once per week with soapy water or neem oil. Mix one teaspoon of dish detergent in a spray bottle and fill it to the top with water. Spray the leaves with the soap mixture to remove aphids. Follow the directions on the neem oil bottle for mixing and application.

Grow garlic or chives in your strawberry garden. Many bugs do not like the smell of these two plants, including aphids. Bugs will avoid your strawberry plants to stay away from the smell. You can also plant marigolds among your strawberries, as they repel bugs.

Spray strawberry plants with water. Use a hose end sprayer to knock spider mites off the plants. Spray the undersides of leaves as well.

Treat your strawberry plants with an insecticide labeled for use on strawberries. Follow instructions for the number of days between use and harvest. Mix and use according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Eliminate slugs and snails from your garden with iron phosphate granules. Use approximately 1/2 lb. of iron phosphate for every 500 feet of garden space.

Misshapen Strawberries: What Causes Deformed Strawberries

So it’s late spring and I’ve been salivating since last year; it’s strawberry harvest time. But wait, there’s something wrong. My strawberries are misshapen. Why do strawberries get deformed, and what can be done about it? Read on to find out what causes deformed strawberries and whether or not you can eat the misshapen strawberries.

Why Do Strawberries Get Deformed?

First of all, weird looking strawberries don’t necessarily mean they are inedible; it just means they’re weird looking strawberries. But, yes, there is no doubt a reason for misshapen strawberries like these. There are three reasons for deformity in strawberries with a possible fourth put forward for discussion:

Poor pollination. The first reason is the most likely and has to do with lack of pollination. This can be discerned vs. other types of deformity by fruit that has variable seed size. The large seeds were pollinated and the small seeds were not. This happens more commonly in the spring after cool weather and frost protection in the form of row covers has limited bee activity.

Frost damage. Hand in hand with a lack of pollination and another reason for misshapen berries is frost injury. If you didn’t provide the strawberries with frost protection, light frost injury can cause deformities. This is diagnosed by examining flowers that are adjacent to the deformed berries. They will have blackened centers indicating frost injury.

Nutrient deficiency. Like all plants, strawberries need nutrients. Boron is one of the most commonly deficient micronutrient amongst strawberries, as it is prone to leaching. While boron deficiency causes several symptoms, the most noticeable are deformed berries, asymmetrical leaves, and stubby roots. To verify a deficiency in boron, a leaf analysis is required.

Insect pests. Lastly, another reason for misshapen berries is thrips or lygus bugs feeding on the fruit. Here to dispel the myth, thrips feeding on strawberries does not distort the fruit. It may cause bronzing near the stem end of the fruit, however.

Lygus bugs (Lygus hesperus) are another matter. They can and will cause misshapen berries (actually it’s the nymphs), but they are rarely active until late in the growing season, so if you have distorted berries in the spring or early summer, it is unlikely it is caused by lygus bugs. Rather the cause is almost certainly due to poor pollination, frost damage or a boron deficiency.

If you have strawberries you may have noticed some of the fruit are not developing properly. They stay tiny, are misshapen or have areas that appear to be just a bunch of “seeds” where the fruit didn’t grow. This is usually due to a pollination problem. Technically speaking an individual strawberry is actually an aggregate of many fruits with each of the seeds on the surface of the strawberry part of many individual fruits that make up the entire strawberry. When a seed is not pollinated the fleshy receptacle behind it (the part we enjoy eating) does not develop. Therefore the more seeds that are successfully pollinated, the more full and normal looking the strawberry will be.

Poor pollination can be due to rainy, cold or windy weather conditions, which hinder bees from getting out and doing their job; or from a lack of pollinators for any other reason such as bees being killed by pesticides or the plant being in an area where pollinators don’t have access to the blooms.

If bad weather is the cause the problem should remedy itself but may return and affect individual strawberries that have their blooms open during such weather conditions. Remember to avoid application of insecticides that are harmful to bees. If the plant is in a container inside a greenhouse move it out to an area where bees have access to it.

Malformed fruit can also be due to damage from small insects with piercing sucking mouthparts such as the tarnished plant bug but this appears as dimpled and misshapen strawberries, and is most likely not what is affecting the berries at this point in the season.

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