I’m looking forward to the strawberry harvest this spring. Last year, the cheeky guinea pigs got into my strawberry pots. Lizards, rabbits and slugs also like to eat strawberries. So this year I’ve planted a strawberry pipe. I’m going vertical! And I’m using recycled materials to do it.
Strawberries are usually grown on the ground. These nicely spaced plants, with casuarina mulch, belong to my good friend. Commercially, strawberries are often mulched with black plastic, which retains moisture, heats up the soil, keeps the berries clean, prevents weeds and reduces slug habitat. Pine needles, or casaurina needles, do most of these things too, plus they help keep the soil gently acidic. Strawberries grow well in an acidic soil.
I bought this strawberry planter secondhand. You poke strawberry plants through the holes as you fill it with soil. It retained water quite well, but it’s not very sturdy. At the end of the season, the whole thing rusted through the thin wire on top and crashed out of the tree. I didn’t get a great crop from it, but I think the soil I used wasn’t the best. At the moment, it’s just sitting on the ground, offering its crop to the marauding guinea pigs.
You can drill your own strawberry pipes. It’s something I’ve been meaning to get around to for a few years. A piece of PVC pipe, capped at both ends, with holes drilled along the top for inserting plants. Luckily, I found this at the tip shop, filled with weeds, and I knew what it was. Even if the holes are a bit haphazard! I’ve emptied the weeds and old soil out of the pipe, and I’m ready to start.
There’s a drainage hole at one end, underneath. If I drilled it myself, I’d drill the drainage hole slightly up, either on the end cap or on the side of the pipe, rather than underneath. That way there’s a reservoir of water inside all the time. This pipe will be hanging in full sun, and the plants will use the water up quickly in summer.
I began by half filling the pipe with mature compost. This will provide a range of trace elements and minerals, and help to retain water.
I had some coffee grounds, which are high in nitrogen, so I sprinkled those in each hole. Coffee is acidic, helping create the right pH for strawberries. It also works to deter slugs, so if you grow your plants in the ground, sprinkle coffee grounds around each plant to keep them safe. You can get coffee grounds easily by asking around at your local cafes. I find it helps if you supply your own container, are prepared to accept a large amount, and ask during the day what is the best time to pick the coffee grounds up; make sure you follow through. It might work best to leave your container with the cafe.
Last year’s strawberry pot is now crowded. There were two plants in this pot at planting time, now there’s about eight. This will reduce the sunlight on the berries, make it easier for slugs to hide in there, and reduce the amount of nutrients I can supply to the plants.
I carefully sliced the spade straight down around one clump, and levered it out. As long as there’s a chunk of root attached, it will transplant well.
I nestled the new plant into a hole in the pipe, onto the compost.
I dug up another 8 plants and planted them into the pipe. I backfilled it with nice aged potting mix, and levelled out the holes I left in the large strawberry pots. The thinned out pots will grow better now that they aren’t so crowded.
Some of the clumps have little strawberries attached, even though it’s still technically winter here. I should cut them off, to allow the plants to establish themselves before fruiting.
I could have used thick wire or brackets to hang the pipe, but I had some lengths of nylon cord from an old trampoline net (to be featured in a future post). I just knotted three pieces into loops, doubled them to get the right height, slipped them around the pipe and hung them over the fence palings. I’ve suspended the tube so that the water outlet will run into a planting box below, and tilted it slightly away from the outlet so that the left side always retains some water.
A close up of the suspension cord. I’ve hung the pipe on this side of the fence for two reasons; firstly, it’s the sunny side, and secondly, the weight of the pipe pulls the palings towards the crossbeam.
You can also grow other shallow-rooted plants in these, like parsley, lettuce, coriander, chives, basil or rocket. What would you grow in a suspended garden?