The Strawberry Tower – a lot of berries in a small footprint

strawberriesI love strawberries.  I know what you’re thinking, “Laura, you are a vegetarian with a garden…you love all produce, don’t you?”  Why, yes, I do…but berries rank among my most beloved.  Here in Texas it is hard to grow my very favorite, the blueberry, because it gets a little too hot for those little blue gems.  But strawberries love it here.  And strawberries are delicious!  The challenge for a gardener with limited space, like me, though, is that to get much of a harvest, you have to devote a good deal of space to your strawberries.  And since space is something I don’t have, but strawberries are something I MUST have…I went vertical and built strawberry towers.

The towersAbove is picture of those lovely towers last Spring, shortly after the berries were planted and were just getting started on growing.  As you can see, you can cram a whole lot of berry plants into a very very small garden footprint with these babies.  Below is a closer shot of how they looked a little later in the season when they were growing strong and producing berries.  Is your mouth watering yet?

Tower full of berriesMine is…hmmmm….berries….okay….focus, Laura.  If you are still reading, I’m guessing that means that you are interested in these tasty towers, so I will now do my best to tell you how I built mine.

The pipe itself is PVC drain pipe.  I used drain pipe instead of standard PVC because it is thinner – giving a dainty flower like myself a shot at cutting all the necessary holes in the pipe with minimal cussing on my part.  I cut my pipe to about 8 feet in length so that after I buried about 16 inches of it, I would still have over 6 feet of strawberry tower.  I see no reason you couldn’t leave the pipe whatever length you purchase, if you want to carry a ladder out to reach the top berries, or if you are really really tall.

Here is the pipe before I started work on it.

The pipeHard to believe that, soon, this plain, boring tube will be the home of sweet deliciousness.

Okay…next you need to cut all the holes for your berries.  You don’t want the holes so small that it is hard to get the berries in, and not so big that you have a hard time keeping all the dirt from running out.  I used a 1.5 inch hole saw and it worked just fine.  I’ve had the towers for two seasons now and feel that size is just perfect.  If you aren’t familiar with holes saws, here is a picture of the one I used.

Hole sawIt fits onto a drill just like a regular drill bit, and you use it just like a drill bit.

Now you drill holes.  As you can see, I offset my holes so I could fit more on the pipe and not weaken the whole thing by having them too close together.  I also put holes on only three “sides” of the pipe since I knew that the remaining “side” would not be facing the sun.

Tower with holesTada!  Pipe with holes.  Notice that I didn’t put any holes in the bottom end – we will be burying that part in the ground, so it doesn’t need holes.  I allowed for 16 inches to be buried, since I wanted my towers to be good and sturdy.

Plant the towersHere they are buried in the garden.  For each one, I dug a deep hole, stood the pipe in the hole, and then tightly packed the dirt in around it.

Now, before we fill those towers with dirt, let’s talk about watering. The nature of the towers makes them very difficult to hand water, and since adding a watering system to the inside of the pipe would be close to impossible to do AFTER the strawberries are in place, the time to put something in is after they are standing, but before you add dirt and plants.  I am sure there are many awesome and creative ways of handling this problem – here was my solution.  I use a drip watering system for my entire garden.  If you wander the aisles of your neighborhood home improvement store, you have probably seen all the parts and pieces for a drip system over near the plumbing and sprinkler parts.  If you saw my earlier post about how I put in my garden (if not, click here), you saw all the PVC we added to run water right to the plants.  Several of the valves that poke up out of the ground in my garden run on a sprinkler timer – and it is to these valves that I connect my drip system.  You have to connect a pressure regulator to the water source to reduce the water pressure so it can flow into the small tubing of the drip system without blowing the whole thing apart, and then you need the adapter that reduces the size from a hose fitting down to the small tubing size – you can see both attached to the valve in the picture below.

Water systemThe little black tubing you see in the picture then carries the water all around my garden to all the little fruits and veggies -with small emitters at each plant.  For the strawberry towers, I found they make a soaker hose that fits with this system and knew that it would be perfect to run down the inside of the towers.

A teeny tiny soaker hose. Isn’t it adorable?

mini soaker hoseI attached the solid black tubing to the watering system, ran it up the outside of the towers, connected it to a length of soaker hose that I ran down through the inside of the pipe, and then used one of the system’s little plugs to cap the end of the soaker.

Here you can see what the connection at the top look like – a little dirty, but you get the idea.

The hose connectionFor those considering trying this method, here are a few things I learned:

1.  You do want to run the water up to the top of the tower with the solid hose and let it run down the inside in the soaker hose.  If you try and run it from the bottom, it is very hard for the water to make it all the way UP in the soaker hose.

2. Because it takes a lot of pressure to push the water up even the solid hose, it will need a home run of it’s very own – meaning that there should not be any other emitters on that line from the time it leaves the water reducing adapter.  You CAN use Y adapters off the main valve to create more water pathways – each with their own pressure and size reducing adapters – but the towers should each get their own run after those pressure and size reducing adapters.

Okay…so the towers are drilled, standing, and have a watering system…time to add dirt.  I wish I had pictures of this next part, because they would be funny, but all hands were needed to handle the tricky business of getting dirt in the towers…and getting it to stay.  Since part of my main concern with the towers was them drying out too quickly, I used a moisture control potting soil mixed with compost as my filler.  Wearing protective eye-wear, I put my hands over the holes at the bottom of the tower, while Todd poured the soil mixture in the top.  It was messy and hilarious.  As we filled, I moved my hands up the tower to cover the holes as best I could – soil did spill out the various holes as we went, but in the end we got the job done.  The mixture was slightly damp as we put it in, which helped keep it from just pouring out the holes – you wouldn’t want the mixture really wet, but slightly damp did seem to be a benefit.

Now we have a strawberry tower with a watering system and soil…time for the strawberries.  To fit through the holes you drilled, you will need bare-root plants, not potted ones.  I prefer to order mine in bulk from places like Burpee.com and HenryFields.com.  When you do order them in bulk (one or more for each hole you drilled), they come in a bundle like this:

Strawberry bundleFirst order of business is to find the rubber band holding that bundle together and give it a little snip.

Cut the rubber bandNext, you need to break the bundle gently apart into it’s separate little strawberry plants.

separate out the plantsYou will need to identify which is the root end, and which is the crown of the plant.  With these healthy specimens I got from Henry Fields, that is pretty easy to do.

The plantNow for the actual planting process.  You take your cute little bare root strawberry, use your fingers to dig a spot for it inside one of the holes in the tower, then gently stuff it in the hole root first, using your fingers to snug the soil around it until all that is sticking out of the hole is the crown of the plant.

plant the strawberriesTo keep the dirt and the plant from just falling out of the hole before it’s had a chance to stretch out and root itself, I use strips of burlap.  Just cut a little strip of burlap, wrap it around the base of the plant and tuck it in the hole.  By the time the burlap deteriorates, the plant will be established, and the soil will stay in the hole.

Cut the burlapPut in the burlapAll done!  With a little time, sun and water…

Berries…you will have fresh berries coming out of a very small footprint in your garden.

Tasty tasty berries…

Berries and yogurt

To add fertilizer to the tower in coming years, you can just tuck a few alfalfa fertilizer pellets in each hole, or squirt a little compost tea in each hole.  Easy Peasy.

Good luck!  Now get out there and garden!

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12 thoughts on “The Strawberry Tower – a lot of berries in a small footprint

  1. Thanks for the informative, detailed post! Have you overwintered your strawberry plants in the towers or do you treat them as annuals? I’m curious if you could propagate the runners in this system. I’m going to try lettuce towers in the greenhouse next winter, but hadn’t considered strawberry towers in the garden. Great post!

    • Thank you so much! I did overwinter the strawberries this last winter, and even with the two ice storms and many nights with freezing temps, about 1/4 of the plants made it through – which is surprising because I did little to protect them and they are so exposed. I am not sure how to let the runners propagate – if you think of a way, let me know. I did plant kale in one of the towers in the Fall with some success – if you do try lettuce, let me know how it goes! Thanks for commenting!
      Laura

  2. Love it. May give it a try. I also needed info about the drip system and the little bit here you shared, help me know what to do. Thanks.

  3. It’s the irrigation that it the key. I tried a pre made strawberry tower with some kind of tough fiber enclosing a wire cage. No matter how often I watered it, I could not keep it from drying out. I liked the way you thought through the issues of pressure and saturation: an elegant solution. But I would not be comfortable annually murdering innocent strawberry plants after I had wrung all the production I could force out of them. But, I see you have different standards.

    • Kellee, my bestest of friends, they are not murdered. You know I love my plants and do all I can to help all of them survive. Actually, an amazing number of the strawberries planted last year have survived into this year – and considering the freakish cold snaps and ice storms, that’s saying something.

  4. Pingback: Garden with PVC | Bloom into Landscaping

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