rotten strawberries in hand

How To Keep Strawberries From Rotting

There is one easy thing you can do to keep your strawberries from rotting before they even ripen. This quick, easy, and cheap (often FREE) fix will save your crop!

The rumors began a week ago.

Despite having the row covered, my grazers, and I have 8 of them now (and no the baby is not included!) have been trickling in the reports.

The strawberries are rotting. And they aren’t even ripe yet!

Until the last few days I had been too busy trying to get the garden in to investigate the reports. Once the seed sowing and planting was far enough along that I could walk away, I couldn’t see what was going on in the strawberry patch for all the thistle and clover (do you think my soil is screaming for nitrogen??).

When I really get looking around, the thistle isn’t just in the vegetable gardens… it’s everywhere. The race is on against the thistle seeds.  The flower buds are coming on  and it won’t be long before they’re blowing in the wind.

Now that I only have a few herbs and flower seedlings to transplant (and the new potato seeds to plant when they get here), my main focus is to de-thistleify this place!

Starting with the strawberries.

weeding strawberries

This is what the strawberry patch looked like a couple days ago. I couldn’t see strawberries in there rotten or otherwise. My grazers must have been very ambitious to fight their way through the thorns for a snack.

weeding strawberries-3

And I was just as ambitious to fight through them to get to the bottom of this problem and figure out why our berries were rotten.

weeding strawberries-4

It took two and a half long days of hard work, but thanks to my many helpers (motivated by the promise of visiting the zoo when the seeds are all in, the weeds are pulled, and the gardens are mulched) our compost pile is literally heaping with all those weeds and my berry patch is clear and clean enough that I could see that the previous owners had “mulched” the berries with black plastic. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was cheap black plastic that was now flimsy and torn to shreds allowing the berries to sit on the soil. Where the non-breathable black plastic was remaining, it was preventing the plants dead leaves, stems, and berries from last year to decompose. The berries were just sitting right on top of all of that.

Thankfully, there is a quick and easy, super cheap fix that will prevent future berries from rotting even before they ripen… Hay or straw mulch!

This time of year farmers are looking to clean out their barns, removing broken or spoiled bales or loose hay so they can  refill the barns with this year’s hay cuttings. Put up an add on Craigslist offering to clean it up and take it off their hands. We did just that less than a week ago and already we have had 3 replies- one for 15 bales (which we already used), one for 20 bales, and one guy has 200 bales worth of loose hay!! Free for the taking!

Not only will the hay or straw mulch keep your strawberries from rotting, but they’ll keep the beds weed-free and as they decompose will build organic matter. As they break down and disappear,just add a little more.

In the winter, pile it up high, covering the strawberry plants to prevent them from being damaged by frost and when spring rolls around, pull the mulch to the sides to uncover the plants and you have berry rotting protection all ready to go!

To date we’ve harvested about 3 quarts of decent strawberries. (Not counting what the grazers “harvested.”) That’s a FAR cry from the over 25 quarts we pulled from our little patch at our old home a couple years ago! And certainly no where near enough to even contemplate making any jam, let alone baked goods like Strawberry Banana Bread or Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Strawberry Scones.

But at least now I have hope for the next few weeks before the season comes to a close.

There is one easy thing you can do to keep your strawberries from rotting before they even ripen. This quick, easy, and cheap (often FREE) fix will save your crop!

Last update on 2024-05-22 at 13:48 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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  1. What is the best organic way to make your strawberries super sweet.

  2. I used hay once. never again. straw is better because it doesn’t have the grass seed anymore.

    1. You definitely have to be careful with hay. My husband brought home some free hay from a barn floor cleaning last year and I fought with weed seeds all year (actually this spring too.) If it’s sat out and even started to break down the weed seeds aren’t an issue anymore. Just make sure to wear a dust mask in case of mold that way.

    1. We’ve never really had a problem with rabbits, but my husband’s grandfather swears by putting soap or human hair in a pair of stockings and putting it near the berries. To keep the chickens out of ours, I drape a length of tulle fabric (which is probably found cheaper than breathable row cover) and then stake it to the ground. I pull it up to harvest and re-stake it. Pain in the rear? Yes, but strawberries are totally worth it!

  3. And this is why they are called “straw”berries. 🙂 (Permanent black plastic mulch is not garden friendly 😛 ).

    1. what a nice way to remember it, directly translated the Danish word means earth berries, but now I just have to think English to know what to do 🙂

      1. We have several large pick your own farms near us, and they always have HUGE round bales of straw near the patches and keep them heavily mulched. My mother and grandmother always did the same, so it never occurred to me that others didn’t do this, too.

  4. I enjoy reading your blog, and your many homesteading adventures. you should really stick with straw mulch; the hay is full of seeds, and will not keep your strawberries, or any other crop, weed free. it will just sprout new (and possibly) different weeds from your neighbors farm.

    1. Yeah, we’ve heard that before (our neighbors keep telling us now too) but really haven’t had a problem with it so far… and we’ve been using hay mulch for oh, maybe 5 years now. If weeds start growing, just through down a little more hay to snuff them out. We can get lots of hay for free and since it’s never been a problem it doesn’t justify the expense of straw (and since when did straw get so expensive?! So much for the old saying) 🙂