I 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.
Above 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?
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.
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.
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.
Tada! 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.
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.
The 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?
I 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.
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:
Now 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.
To 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.
Tasty tasty berries…
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!