Come June, all we want to eat are strawberries. We buy them at the Farmers Market by the flat; to eat fresh, to add to baked goods, and to make jam. We buy them because I can never grow enough here to satisfy our cravings. Tom and I joke that our entire yard could be planted to strawberries and it still wouldn't be enough. Well, we won't do that, because then where would the tomatoes go (our second most favorite thing)??? It doesn't stop us from growing a few strawberries though.
Through the years, we've experimented with different ways of cropping berries. Growing them in the ground is, of course, the classic way to do it, but there is a cost to doing it this way - SLUGS. The berries that we have in the ground always get eaten up right away by slugs. I could plant them in a raised bed, which would offer some protection, but strawberries are a perennial, which means that bed would be dedicated to them for years. So we've tried various pots and planters. We have had the most success with a planter made out of a recycled pallet and hung on a wall. The berries are up off the ground, and they hang down over the slats, which keeps them clean.
However there were problems with the pallet. Over time, I've come to understand where strawberries grow in the wild - and that is the forest. They are an understory plant that likes dappled shade. That means cooler temperatures and wetter soil. Our pallet is hung up in full, hot, dry, all day sun. We just couldn't keep up with the water, and the berries were always drying out.
I've also learned, over the course of my studies, that most growers use their strawberry plants for three years, and then replace them. You can do this by buying new crowns, or taking off the runners and planting those. Or you can try removing the runners to keep the energy going to the main plant, which is what I did. So we got a few good years of berries out of our pallet planter. But the plants were starting to look very dried out and tired, so I felt it was time for a fresh start. At $7 for 25 crowns, berry plants are not expensive.
So I ordered four different kinds of plants from Peaceful Valley, and they arrived this week. I got half June-bearing and half Ever-bearing. As the names imply, June-bearers fruit all at once at one time in the summer, while Ever-bearers fruit every season except winter. I knew I wanted to plant the berries up off the ground again, at least the bulk of them, so we had to figure out how we wanted to do that.
It's amazing the things you can find on Nextdoor, for free. Someone was giving away this old wooden trellis; it's extremely heavy and sturdy and I knew I could use it for something. I brought it home and painted it, and it's been a trellis for peas for a season now. But I wondered if we could attach gutters on to it, to make a new sort of wall. And that's exactly what we did.
We purchased galvanized steel gutters from Home Depot - they come in 10 ft sections for $6. Add in some brackets to fasten the gutters to the trellis and some end caps, and voila - not an expensive project at all. We chose steel over plastic because 1) we don't like plastic, and 2) the steel won't rust when it's galvanized (dipped in zinc). I would have loved to use wood but the weight of the thing concerned me.
The gutters were cut to size using tin snips, and then we used a drill to put in drainage holes.
I bought the best potting soil I could find, loaded with humus and organic matter, and mixed that with a little granulated organic fertilizer for a slow release of nutrients. The one thing about planting in pots is that you must continue to feed them, because the plants aren't getting nutrition from the surrounding soil. Something like fish emulsion is perfect for this, because it has both water-soluble nutrients for use right away, and other nutrients that the soil bacteria will break down over time.
The strawberry crowns come like this:
25 crowns banded together. You separate them and plant them proud, that is, with the crowns above the soil line. Strawberry crowns have a tendency to rot if planted too deeply.
This 'wall' has three gutters, and I bought four kinds of berries, so one row went in the ground at the bottom of the trellis. It will be interesting to see how those fare compared to the ones off the ground. Because this strip of earth is between the patio and the garage, it doesn't have as much pest pressure as other parts of the garden.
A light covering of coffee chaff (high in nitrogen) and the project was done. I'll have to keep these moist, but the nice part of this particular location is that it gets only morning sun, so the plants will be much cooler than they were over in the pallet planter. (Which, by the way, I replanted with succulents.) Hopefully, come June, we'll be able to skip a few trips to the Farmers Market and eat a lot of our own berries, instead.