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Strawberry tower questions

Discussion in 'Container Gardening' started by totalwise, May 13, 2018.

  1. totalwise

    totalwise Apprentice Gardener

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    Hi

    I have around 40 starwberry plants on beds. They take up a lot of room and I rarely get to eat the starwberries before the slugs get to them.

    I have decided to build a strawberry tower to solve my 2 issues with space and slugs.

    I have attached a picture of my tower below:
    strawberry planter.jpg
    The tower is not finished yet. I am going to put these on a base of wooden stilts which will be electrified with 9v wire which will zap any slugs that try to climb up.

    I have seen towers made my other people in pintrest where people just drill a hole into the timber and squeeze the plants in. They regret because they cannot water the plants very well. Watering from the top does not trickle down to the bottom. So I decided to spend the time and make balconies for it, hoping to water them easier.

    I am having a bit of cold feet transporting the plants over just yet. I am thinking of putting an internal watering system as well. I was going to make a watering system shown below, built using PVC pipes. There seems to be a lot of talk online on how PVC is a toxic and dangerous chemical to use. I was hoping for some clarification on this.

    My plan is provided below, a lot of people are using a straight pipe with holes in them. I didn't want to use that design, because the soil can easily flow into the pipe through the holes over time and block it up. So I have come up with this design so that the water distributes evenly and the soil can't flow into the pipe.
    Image0015.JPG
     
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    • Marley Farley

      Marley Farley Affable Admin! Staff Member

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      I like your thinking, strawberry towers are a super idea but keeping them all watered is always a problem growing in towers.. I like your idea of the watering system though so you will have to let us know if it is a success..! :thumbsup:
       
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      • Aldo

        Aldo Gardener

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        I am not an expert in any way, but I like your project.
        For my strawberries, I ended up making stackable planters and planting them on the sides, to avoid the pests' issues you mention. (and infections too).
        And yes, it is not ideal in terms of irrigation. But given they are basically 120 liters boxes, partially insulated on all sides, the soil tend to stay moister than it would otherwise and I can put larger plants on top, which benefit of the 40cm or so depth.

        Or so I hope, for the moment the strawberries seems to be doing reasonably ok with occasional watering from the top.

        Out of curiosity, are you going to fit your tower with some moisture retentive material, in addition to the dripping system you described?
         
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        • totalwise

          totalwise Apprentice Gardener

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          I haven't planned anything specific with regards moisture retention. Perhaps cover the "balcony tops" with some material to prevent evaporation. I am happy to hand water them myself during the summer. But issues would be during winter when I'm barely in the garden during the winter so never water them.
           
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          • Aldo

            Aldo Gardener

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            I don't think they will need much water in the winter months.
            I had the same doubt last November, as I had 70+ new plants from runners on a table in the garden, and asked here on the forum.
            I was told that they do not require much in terms of watering, because they go to sleep over the winter.
            Indeed, they survived snow, frost and more, they are quite tough.
            What they did not like at all was the mini heatwave in April. It killed 20 of them in their small pots.
            So, I would be more worried about good irrigation over late spring, summer and early Autumn than over Winter.
            But I am not an expert, I am just talking based on my recent experience.

            Covering the top soil with horticultural fleece will slow down evaporation considerably, I noticed.
            I know there are soil retention mats of all kinds, and also materials such as vermiculite which you can mix with the soil and will absorb water and then release it slowly when the soil around dries up.
            I have also seen this stuff, as an alternative to using pipes: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076J5T...olid=1UYRCCEOQU78V&psc=0&ref_=lv_ov_lig_dp_it

            Being ceramic it works a bit like vermiculite, terracotta and similar, via porosity of the material and capillary action.
            I cannot vouch for any of the above, beside hortocultural membrane though.
             
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            • Notty1975

              Notty1975 Gardener

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              I like the idea of you’re watering system although seems a bit complicated and costly you could use overflow pipe which is relatively cheap from Toolstation/screwfix (im using it to make a fruit cage at the moment) but my advice to you for the watering would be use a 40 mm waste pipe with 1.5-2mm holes drilled and then wrap it with capillary mat secured with cable ties thus stopping soil entering tube as for pvc being toxic I remember reading somewhere it was ok and hope so as my entire water system on my allotment from collection to delivery is all pvc solvent weld waste from 50mm down to 21.5mm(overflow) and nice idea with the 9v battery it works well and funny to watch
               
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              • Aldo

                Aldo Gardener

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                As I understand, PVC is in itself inert with respect to solvents such as water. I remember reading that sometimes addictives are used in PVC, which can be a problem.

                Out of curiosity, have you tried the pipe and capillary mat solution?
                If you have, how many hole would you advise drilling? Would you put caps on both ends to slow the water?

                I was thinking to make something like that for a planter I am making, bury it in the soil and fill it up with water.
                Actually, I was thinking of using soda bottles wrapped in capillary matting and buried in the soil, with the cap on but perhaps drilled. But of course they are less rigid than PVC pipe.
                 
              • Notty1975

                Notty1975 Gardener

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                I used it a while back in a strawberry tower (blue barrel) and it worked well drilled 1mm holes and put an end cap on it
                 
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                • Aldo

                  Aldo Gardener

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                  Thanks!
                  I might give it a go.
                  I am still deciding whether I should go for clay pots, pipes and mat, or bottles and mat. I need to research a bit more.
                   
                • totalwise

                  totalwise Apprentice Gardener

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                  I've put in a straight PVC pipe in with holes wrapped in capillary matting sheets to prevent soil from entering.

                  Transplanting the strawberry plants into the tower was a little heartbreaking as the plants become limp for a short period and then take 3-4 days to recover from. I've picked the wrong time to transplant as many of the plants have fruited and I can see a lot of strawberries forming.

                  Here a picture of my tower, on the background you can see one of the older planters on the background.

                  On the tower I have transplanted the same number of strawberry plants as was in one of the planters as you can see it looks very sparse on the tower. This is because there just wasn't sufficient room for all the plants to grow leaves. The tower creates a lot more room.

                  planter 2.jpg
                   
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                  • totalwise

                    totalwise Apprentice Gardener

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                    A quick update, I'm enjoying the strawberries from the tower. It's been a success, not a single strawberry were taken by birds or slugs. The slugs don't seem to want to climb up the tower and the birds can't perch anywhere to get to the strawberries so they're left alone.

                    My timing was bad though, I made the tower and transferred the plants over mid may just as the the plants flowered and produced small strawberries and the transfer did shock them and stunted the growth of the strawberries. But they're hardy and all managed to give me a few small strawberries and survived the transfer.


                    I realise I need to re-fertilise the soil, I've read around and found that strawberries like manure and natural fertiliser. The best way to fertilise the soil in the tower would be to turn manure into a fine liquid soup and pouring it in from the top. It does trickle all the way down which is good.
                     
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                    • totalwise

                      totalwise Apprentice Gardener

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                      To answer my own questions in case anyone reads this in future:

                      In my tower the water did run down through the bottom. I used a well draining soil and the water does drip all the way to the bottom and drips through.

                      The water pipe was unnecessary and do not even use it. I just pour a jug of water at the top and it makes it way down through the soil.

                      I did not use any moisture retention. I think the tower alone was quite fiddly and didn't want to spend any more time on this.
                       
                    • Aldo

                      Aldo Gardener

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                      If your strawberries are in their first year, it could simply be that they are not established yet.
                      Mine made relatively few berries last year.
                      I moved one tub on top of an admittedly large planter and now they make berries the size of a chestnut and very good, while the ones I left in tubs are anyway making some large ones and many smaller fruits, albeit less tasty.
                      While the ones I grew from runners and planted mainly on the side of the planters are making mainly smaller berries, but I would not be surprised if they did better next year.

                      As for fertilizers, I am trying with sugar cane molasses diluted in water, as I read of scientifc trials which suggested it as a good option. It seems to work better than the strawberry specific fertilizer I used last year, but it is hard to tell, being the second year.
                      Spraying the foliage a few times over the season with a light solution of water and aspirin (350mg dissolved in a liter of water) is apparently beneficial too.

                      But there are plenty of more knowledgeable people here who might be able to give you some advice.
                       
                    • totalwise

                      totalwise Apprentice Gardener

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                      Thanks for the advice.

                      It's really difficult to date how old the strawberry plants are. Some are definately too old though and I have started to pull them out of the tower.

                      There is an abundance of runners so I will replace the older plants.

                      I've made aluminium shelves that allow insertion/removal of petit felous pots. So I can catch the runners and then move them into their own pocket.

                      runner pots.JPG


                      Vast majority of my plants are junerbearing, I have 3-4 everbearers that are flowering on the pic as you can see. I am going to buy a batch of ever bearers.

                      I'll use the tips with mollases and asprin for next year.
                       
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                      • Aldo

                        Aldo Gardener

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                        If you need to fertilize only the strawberries, you might also consider:
                        Vitax 1L Organic Liquid Strawberry Feed: Amazon.co.uk: Garden & Outdoors
                        or perhaps some seeweed based fertilizer, as I heard good things about it on the forum.
                        Which might save you a few quids and the hassle to predilute the molasses in hot water before mixing it with a full watering can.
                        I use molasses because it is apparently a general purpose fertilizer for the kind of plants I am growing (strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, cucumbers, blackberries and raspberries) and it can be had for relatively cheap:
                        Molasses cane 7kg, natural fertiliser. Enriched with minerals. Developed in UK.: Amazon.co.uk: Garden & Outdoors

                        One thing I found with molasses is that it can clog self watering pots which use porous matting, preventing them from wicking properly (as opposed to the classical DIY design with perforated hydroponic baskets, which did not give me issues)

                        But it is still expensive if you only have strawberries to take care of. The strawberries specific fertilizer I linked does 6 liters for one capful, every two weeks with no predilution, so it would last you quite long. I do 40 liters every two weeks for multiple species, so molasses works cheaper for me.

                        As for the aspirin, you would need uncoated soluble pills (just mentioning because they tend and sell coated one for cardiac problems prevention), I use three 75mg pills for one liter sprayer.

                        Sutton Seeds does a good deal for 18 day neutral plants, 6 of each variety. But to be honest, with exactly the same treatment to let the plugs develop (good potting soil plus perlite and vermiculite, in 9cm pots sheltered from sun most days) only 2 varieties are growing. The other one.. well.. 5 dead plants and one not doing so well, and they were delivered quite late in the season anyway.

                        I bought a few of this alpine strawberries, which arrived very well packaged and healthy, and I am linking them. They make numerous but very tiny fruits all season long, and they are pretty:
                        Alpine Strawberry plant 9cm pot FREE DELIVERY: Amazon.co.uk: Garden & Outdoors

                        I found out about molasses and aspirin in James Wong book, which is packed with similar tricks and very informative to new gardeners such as me:
                        RHS Grow for Flavour: Tips & tricks to supercharge the flavour of homegrown harvests: Amazon.co.uk: James Wong, The Royal Horticultural Society: 9781845339364: Books

                        Good luck and happy growing :)
                         

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