Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Strawberry towers

This is just a funny garden year. There it is was mid June and still rainy outside. I looked at my weather report every day, hoping for this 5 day forecast of sun, just to be cheated over and over again.
I found myself planning my schedules by the dry and sunny days. Going shopping only happens on the rainiest days, forget going to town if it is sunny outside. I needed that day to catch up in my yard. 
But finally we got some nice Summer-like weather, I just hope it will last.
The weeds really seemed to like this wet weather, they are growing just like weeds. Or maybe it is just that I couldn't weed all the time and so there will be now weeds all summer. Since our summer arrived I have been outside almost all day, trying to catch up. This i one of the reasons I have been neglecting my blog for a while. I am just so busy outside I hardly have time to do anything else.
So I was really behind planting my Peppers and Eggplants, which I just managed to plant two weeks ago. But even they had been in the small pots for a long time, they are growing so nicely and are already setting peppers. I think using the home-made warming tray has really helped growing healthy and strong plants. Usually I was lucky to get a few peppers late season.
They do say that if you stunt the growth of the heat loving plants like Peppers, Eggplants and Tomatoes they sometimes never catch up anymore and greatly reduce production. My sun-room is just too cold in February to grow anything, having the warming tray is making a big difference.

My first Strawberries, even they were slowly getting ripe, were getting all mushed out by the rain. It wasn't too big of a loss since they didn't really taste all that good anyway. The rain washed all the sweet, strawberry flavor out of them.
But now the weather is perfect strawberry weather and I am picking a large bowl of Strawberries every other day and they are sweet and juicy. Since I am so busy weeding and catching up in my yard I mainly made some of my quick Strawberry Tart and some Ice cream with them. Luckily I only grow Ever-bearing Strawberries so I will have a long harvest and hopefully will be able to make some strawberry jam later in the season.

Strawberries use a lot of yard, especially if you grow enough to make jam and freeze. The area my strawberries are growing in right now will be my new flower and shrub garden, it is our second lot and eventually we'll built a smaller house there. Lucky me, I get to start some of my new garden before there is a house.

This way at least some of it will be established and I get to move my favorite plants from my old garden to the new. I already got started on some of the new garden, but the strawberries are in the way and need to get moved.

 I wanted to move them to my Kitchen-garden, which is fenced in. Already I grow all my other berries in the lower part of this garden, but there just isn't enough room for that many strawberries. To have strawberries down there I needed to go vertical.

For two years I have been looking at the strawberry towers at the Raintree Nurseries website, thinking I like to make my own, but I have been trying to find bigger diameter tubes then the ones they usually have at the Home depot, but never found anything larger then 4" or 8" which I think is not wide enough to grow them successfully. I know from searching online many people make them with the smaller sized tubes, but I just felt there wasn't enough room for the roots and enough dirt to sustain the roots in there.
I also think plastic just gets too hot for the berries and thinking of all the chemicals in the plastic I am not sure I even wanted plastic tubes for growing strawberries.

So one day I saw these strawberry towers in the  Stark Brothers Catalog, which consisted of a small wire cage and coconut fiber mats you can fill with dirt and then plant with your berries. It was a bit small but I liked the idea that the plants had more dirt around their roots and no plastic involved.
So I got the idea of making something similar out of sturdy fencing, some fence posts and coconut fiber mats.

I just cut the fencing into 6 feet high x 35 inch wide sections, rolled them into a tube 33 inch diameter, wiring the length sides together, overlapping just 2 inches to make it sturdier. Then I cut the coconut fiber mat into the same size, rolled it into a tube and inserting it in the wire tower. Now all I had to do fill it up with some good soil mix, watering it well and plant the strawberries. Since my new mail-ordered strawberries were already waiting for me, I had to plant them right away. To plant I just cut some holes into the coconut fiber mat, poked a hole into the dirt and carefully inserted the strawberries. It is a bit tricky to do without hurting the plants. Then I watered it again, to wash the dirt well around the roots. One thing I would do different next time is to let the dirt filled tower sit for a few days before planting the strawberries in it. After a week the dirt had settled a bit and pulled some of the berries down into the wire a bit. I pulled them back up, but my suggestion is wait a week, water it daily and let it settle before planting.

I added a mini bubbler-dripper on top of each tower and connected it to my timed irrigation, the towers will dry out a bit quicker then on flat ground and the berries need a good amount of water to produce berries.
They are growing for about a month in there now and even I lost a few plants, the remaining plants are growing nicely and starting to set some fruit. As the berries produce some runners I will be pinning the new plants into new holes and by next year maybe have all of the tower filled with plants.

Growing them vertical will be not just a space saver I think it will keep them cleaner and more disease free.
And I get to use their old space for my new flower garden.

disclaimer: Not to be shared with the Dervaes Family of Path to Freedom Website. Thank You 


Anonymous said...

Love your post!!! I've been looking for a planter too for my strawberries without breaking the bank. This really helps, thanks.

DieGartenFrau said...

Thank you! I found the coco-fiber mats do shrink a bit over the year in height but still are holding out pretty good. The strawberries have really grown nicely and I expect a good harvest this year.

Ruth said...

and have you found 33 inches to be a good width? i'm in a hotter/sunnier place so i think i'd use a higher moisture retentive mix, or line the inside with some plastic to keep them from drying out too quickly.
thanks for the idea!

DieGartenFrau said...

I think the 33" are more then wide enough. We actually are very dry here over the summer, no rain all summer and with my dripper system (one large dripper per tower) it keeps nicely moist. I am not sure how well the strawberry towers will last. I can see that every year after winter the coco-mats have shrunk and deteriorated more, but we have a very rainy moist climate in winter, it might not shrink/deteriorate as much in drier regions.

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