Grow Up! Make a Vertical Strawberry Tower
When the time comes to plan the garden, my younger niece is only interested in one crop. Sure, she'll grudgingly help plant tomatoes. Cucumbers? Ho hum. Not even cantaloupe sparked her interest. Bring on the strawberries!
We’ve planted just half a dozen plants along the garden fence line the last few years, but in the spirit of planting vertically and trying to satisfy her appetite for the sweet berry, this year we are trying our hand at a strawberry tower. After some asking around, some research, and a lot of discussion, eighteen strawberry plants are not just growing, but flourishing using just a square foot of yard space.
Our “tower” is a six foot length of 4” PVC schedule 40 pipe. Using a hole saw drill bit, we cut 2 ½” holes down one side spaced at about twelve inches, leaving the last foot uncut to sink into the ground. Turning the pipe by a third, another row of holes were cut, offset four inches from the first row. Finally, another one third turn and another offset row of holes were cut. The nieces were then set loose with some cans of spray paint found in the garage to give our whiffle ball tower a bit of artistic flair. They considered several motifs before settling on what might best be described as "postmodern camouflage.” What can I tell you? I don’t know art, but I know what I like. Once the paint dried, a few minutes spent with a post hole digger and our work of art stood tall and proud out by the garden.
Not so tough. But would it support life? Our biggest concern was moisture retention. We were prepared to mount a hose bib for automatic watering, but hoped that wouldn’t be necessary. Packing soil into the pipe didn’t seem practical, but a blend of peat and perlite as our planting medium ended up fitting the bill nicely and should help keep things appropriately soggy. When planting the strawberries, one tower veteran recommended using newspaper to cover the holes until we could get the plants in place. We took a more free-form route, though, enlisting the berry-loving niece to cover the holes one at a time with her hand, pouring the peat/perlite blend to that level, adding a plant then moving on to the next. With all holes filled and two last plants occupying the opening at the top of the pipe, we were good to go.
How’d we do? Water was definitely the top concern for us, but so far we are faring well. Taking the hose to it every few days seems to be doing the job and the plants have remained healthy and hearty. The tower is also yielding fruit steadily, although when I went to take a few pictures, none were to be found. Come to think of it, the berry-loving niece had a curiously satisfied smirk on her face that day.