colander filled with pineberries and albion strawberries

Are Homegrown Strawberries Worth It?

by | May 5, 2024

We are about 1.6 pounds into strawberry season in our backyard, and I have some thoughts. Last year we planted two whole Birdie’s raised beds with strawberry bare root plants, which means I dedicated a lot of valuable real estate to these berries. I think it’s important, as a backyard gardener, to really make the most of our spaces—grow what we love, prioritize food crops that are more difficult to find or are expensive, and grow for maximum flavor. Which begs the question: are homegrown strawberries better? Are homegrown strawberries worth it?

As I said, we are 1.6 pounds into strawberry season. What I didn’t mention, is that we could possibly be 3 pounds into strawberry season if not for the rot, mold, slugs, and roly polies. It has not been all sunshine and roses over here. In fact, this is why I felt compelled to write about this topic because our homegrown strawberries have been a lot of work!

What Impacts Strawberry Flavor?

The sad truth about homegrown strawberries, is that they don’t even always taste better. Over the years I’ve grown strawberries in smaller amounts, in various areas of the garden. Tucked under fruit trees, draped over the edges of containers, and along the borders of raised beds. If anything, it’s taught me that homegrown strawberries vary in flavor for a variety of different reasons. Truthfully, there are a lot of factors that go into growing the sweetest, juiciest strawberries at home.

For one, soil quality and nutrients will affect the flavor of your homegrown strawberries. Strawberries like slightly acidic soil with lots of organic matter. Worm castings especially are wonderful for strawberries. If the soil isn’t quite right for your strawberries, they can be less sweet and downright flavorless.

Sun exposure can also impact the flavor of your strawberries. Personally, I’ve noticed that strawberries taste better when given full sun, about 6-8 hours a day, and warmth. In fact, it’s very similar to tomatoes and other sweet summer produce.

bag of frozen homegrown strawberries

I’m super proud of my bag of homegrown strawberries in the freezer. It’s been very easy to freeze them, and you can make jam or preserves once you have enough. Also, these strawberries can be added to smoothies or into pie filling too!

Third, overwatering can cause flavorless, watery, and bland strawberries! Yep! One year, I grew strawberries around the base of my tangerine, and I had not realized the irrigation frequency was set too high. When I went to harvest the strawberries, I noticed the soil was super wet and the strawberries tasted terrible! Admittedly, I also suspect that having less sun exposure also contributed to lack of flavor as well. When it comes to growing strawberries at home, more water is not always better!

Another reason you may be asking ‘are homegrown strawberries really better?’ is if you aren’t letting them ripen fully on the plants. Honestly, I get it. Every time I go to harvest my strawberries, I’m stuck in a little dilemma. The longer we wait to harvest strawberries, the higher the risk that critters will get them! On the other hand, if you pick your strawberries before they are fully, deep red, they won’t taste good anyway. Honestly, it can be a stressful balance even though I do try different techniques to protect my strawberries from critters.

My review of Strawberry Varieties

I’m convinced that the answer to the question ‘are homegrown strawberries worth it?’ can also be impacted by the variety you grow. Last year we planted three different strawberry bare root plants: ‘albion,’ ‘whopper,’ and ‘white carolina’ pineberries. Finally (yay!) I can actually give you my opinion on these strawberry varieties for Southern California (zone 10), as this spring I was able to try the ‘whopper’ strawberries and pineberries for the first time.

To preface, ‘albion’ strawberries are definitely a winner for me! A wonderful and productive ever-bearing variety, ‘albion’ is one strawberry I don’t regret growing. When fully ripened, the flavor is amazing, and I can’t complain about how many strawberries I’ve harvested from our twenty five plants. On the other hand, the other two varieties have been big disappointments for me.

Pineberries are those white berries in the picture at the very top of this blogpost. They are white berries that have red seeds when they are ripe. Sadly, I’m not enjoying the flavor of the pineberries. If you didn’t know, pineberries are a hybrid of of fragaria chileonsis x virginiana.The flavor of a pineberry is like a strawberry with a hint of pineapple. Due to their fragile nature when ripe, pineberries are not typically found in stores.  In fact, the pineberries I’ve harvested thus far have been so fragile when ripe that they bruised while I was washing them in my sink! Furthermore, the flavor and texture is just not for me. When ripe, the pineberries have been somewhat mealy to me. I think the pineberries need to go!

Lastly, the ‘whopper’ strawberries are not living up to their name at all. They have all been tiny, with average flavor! I’m really disappointed in them, and will probably replace the ‘whopper’ strawberries with a different variety. Again, are homegrown strawberries better? Maybe. It could really depend on the variety you’re growing. What should I try next?

Strawberry Troubles

I’ve been really torn about whether or not homegrown strawberries are worth it. Every time we have harvested our strawberries, I’ve been left with about one colander of good berries, but a whole other colander of trash berries. Especially after our last two rainstorms, so many strawberries molded and rotted! Is it worth it to grow a crop that takes up two raised garden beds and loses fifty percent of its yield?

Some farmers swear by using black plastic as a barrier between strawberry fruits and the soil to help prevent rot and keep pests away. That’s why you’ll see the black plastic in many commercial strawberry fields. But for me, using a plastic barrier in a home setting just seems like more work than it is worth. Personally, I don’t relish the idea of having to purchase a plastic product each year simply to grow my berries. Between the space they take, the products needed, and the time that caring for homegrown strawberries demands, maybe homegrown strawberries are not better?

Growing Strawberries in Containers Could Be a Solution

True story, my mom came over and was perusing our strawberry beds. We were sorting through the ripe berries, the rotted berries, and all the ones I missed when she said ‘this is why I only grow strawberries hanging in containers.’ According to my mom, growing strawberries so that the fruits dangle over the edges of containers, pots, etc. keeps the pest and rot and mold issues waaaaaay down. She’s not wrong. I have noticed that her strawberry pots are quite prolific and pretty much pest free. This is where a product like a Greenstalk Tower could be very helpful. While I don’t personally own a Greenstalk, I know many gardeners who use them for strawberries. Essentially, if you fill every pocket with a strawberry plant, you could grow about thirty plants per tower. Additionally, Greenstalk planters would allow you to grow vertically on cement or a patio, so it would not necessarily take up valuable garden real estate. While I’m not sure yet, maybe I should consider this option for our strawberry growing needs in the future.

Going forward, maybe it would be better if we treated strawberries as more of an accent or border plant. Maybe we use them to tuck into various places in the garden and enjoy whatever joy and delicious snacking that brings. I don’t know if I’m destined to harvest pounds of homegrown strawberries from my backyard.

strawberries hanging over the side of pot

My mom grows strawberries only in pots and containers. She keeps them along the edges so that they dangle over the sides. This certainly offers many benefits and is something I might consider after losing a lot of strawberries because of their contact with the soil

Strawberries in the Dirty Dozen

Just when I think ‘maybe I should give up on growing strawberries,’ I’m reminded of the “dirty dozen.” In my blogpost on Growing Strawberries from bare roots, I mention this non profit organization (the Environmental Working Group) that analyzes samples taken by the USDA each year to determine which non-organic produce has the highest levels of pesticides. Essentially, the dozen crops with the highest levels of pesticides are coined the “dirty dozen.” Without fail, strawberries end up on this list every year. Even from personal experience, have you ever noticed that strawberries from the store make your hands smell? Even the organic ones I’ve purchased seem to have been treated with something—albeit something certified organic—to the point where I notice a smell. Just the other day, as I was processing my own homegrown strawberries, I took great joy in realizing I didn’t smell anything weird.

Now, maybe this isn’t true if you have a vendor that specializes in organic strawberries at your local farmer’s market. I do truly believe that supporting your local farmers, knowing your farmers, and eating seasonally from farmers markets is the next best thing to growing your own. At that point, you’ll just need to consider cost of organic, local strawberries versus the cost of your own backyard space, soil, time, and resources for homegrown strawberries.

On another note, some of our early strawberries were not as sweet due to the rain and lack of sunshine (another case of homegrown strawberries not tasting better), but I realized that I could freeze them and make them into jam or preserves later. If your homegrown strawberries aren’t super sweet, you probably won’t notice after they have been cooked down with tons of sugar into homemade strawberry jam, right? It is nice to know that I have organic, chemical-free berries sitting in my freezer despite them not being perfect. Are homegrown strawberries better? At least in terms of being chemical-free, yes!

Homegrown Berry Appreciation

Today’s blogpost has been mostly contemplative…..growing strawberries at home has a long list of pros and cons. Take into consideration smaller yards and spaces, the decision gets even more difficult. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s not always sunshine and roses with homegrown strawberries. While I find our homegrown boysenberries, blackberries, and raspberries to be one hundred percent worth it and much lower maintenance, I’m still working on how I feel about homegrown strawberries. I won’t tell you not to grow them, as I’m eagerly anticipating our first batch of homemade strawberry jam, but it’s definitely been a lot of work and lots of yucky berries along the way! What do you think? Are homegrown strawberries better? Are they worth it?

To watch the progress of the strawberry beds from the very beginning, watch the YouTube video here. If you’d like to learn why I prefer growing strawberries from bare roots plants, read here. Lastly, if you found this blogpost helpful please feel free to share it with your friends and leave a comment below. Thank you!

5 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    I bought two 6-packs of Chandler strawberries 4 years ago, and put them in a wooden bed raised up on wood legs. Since then, I’ve given many away, added 2 more beds on legs, and added three 16″ pots. All from the same original 12 plants! Since they are off the ground, I have less pests, but birds definitely find them. I let them get as ripe as possible. I never get a basket full, but I do get a handful every day at this time of year. I wouldn’t dedicate a whole raised bed to them, but containers do work well for me. I’m in zone 9b, Fresno California.

    Reply
    • FreckledCalifornian

      Hello and thanks for sharing your much appreciate feedback. Those taller (or elevated) raised beds do seem like a great option as well, I’m glad it’s working out. It’s amazing how strawberries can reproduce and provide free plants to easily. I’m gonna check out the chandler berries because I have a lot of space to fill once I remove the whopper and pineberries. Thank you!

      Reply
  2. nikkipolani

    My plant-share strawberry runners produced flowers, but still no fruit. They’re in a container where they may not be getting enough sun. I’m ambivalent about continuing with them, but will let them continue and see what happens. Thanks for publishing the unvarnished truth about yield!

    Reply
    • FreckledCalifornian

      Sorry to hear that. I definitely wouldn’t give up on strawberries yet (I definitely can’t bring myself to either). Hopefully some of the tips and ideas here will help you grow some great berries soon!

      Reply
  3. Crystal Pearson

    Yard snacks are always worth it yum

    Reply

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Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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