Sun shining, temperatures soaring which can only mean it’s mid-spring and strawberry season is in eastern North Carolina! It’s easy to spot the biggest, reddest, juiciest berries, but what about the berries that look a little bit different? Are they safe to eat?
Of course, any seriously damaged or rotten fruit should be thrown away. Storing them with healthier fruit can lead to the spoilage of all of your hard work! But there are a few disorders that can lead to deformed, but still safe, fruit.
Water damage will show up as softened, water-soaked areas on the underside of fruit. Water damage occurs when heavy rains fall on fields full of ripe berries. This damage can appear similar to a fruit rot disorder. If you happen to pick soft berries, remove them from any berries you intend to store.
Poor pollination will show up as gnarled berry bottoms, sometimes with a small bit of white skin on the bottom as well. When the late winter and early spring are rainy or filled with bad weather, pollinators are discouraged from visiting the flowers at a key point in development. These fruit are perfectly fine to eat despite a misshapen berry.
Boron deficiency will also result in misshapen berries, however, the crown of the berry generally appears white, rather than the bottom. Again, these berries may be lacking in uniformity and flavor, but they are fine to eat.
Sunburn may also be another disorder you find in strawberry patches. It will occur when excessive temperatures are not counteracted by a full plant canopy or generous irrigation. Affected fruit will have brown, rough-textured skin on the upper side of the berry. These fruit are also edible once you get around the texture.
With that, you’ll be able to not only pick out the best berries, but discern between edible and those best left in the berry patch!
Selena McKoy is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Harnett County.