On strawberries and optimism

Loved this article from the Lee Valley gardening newsletter by Karen of The Art of Doing Stuff: Strawberry Planter Update

The moral of this story? It doesn’t matter. Because by next spring, we’ll all have forgotten it.

This explains, pretty perfectly, the blend of ignorance and optimism that informs many of my own gardening decisions.

My own strawberry planter, which was planted with similar high hopes back in the spring, is not faring particularly well. It has been very hot and dry here this summer*, and many of the plants in here actually burned to a crisp when I didn’t water them for a hot day or two. I’m not exaggerating for comic effect or anything. I literally did not water them for a couple of days and their leaves turned into crispy little brown kale chips of failure. So my overall strawberry plant population has been reduced probably by a third, and there are no berries left on my plants, because there were only like 3 and we ate them already.

Here’s what we are eating from the garden: very spicy greens! Almost all the greens have bolted, but there’s nothing else to eat, so we keep picking them.

*Actually, I described Edmonton last week as a “nightmarish hellscape,” and I stand by that. It has been too hot to go outside, really, let along perform gardening tasks. It felt like the end times. When the heat broke with a rain storm on Sunday night I almost started to cry with relief.

Strawberries in the strawberry tower, June 6th

I found the first blooms on my vertical strawberries today! They’ve probably been there for a few days, but we’ll say it was today for greater dramatic value.

IMG_20150606_092245(Sorry, this isn’t the greatest picture I know. And the yard is in dissaray because we had our roof re-shingled yesterday! It’s been very upsetting for all of us. Actually, the roofers were very careful and the damage to plants was minimal, but any type of change is hard for me.)

These are flower towers from Lee Valley that I ordered this spring. I got two of them, one for each side of the stairs from my yard to my deck. I wanted to plant them with strawberries, with the theory that this would produce a lot of fruit in a small space,and would make it easy to protect the berries from birds if necessary by just draping netting over the towers.

When I got them and put them together, I was surprised by how flimsy they felt, and I was a bit concerned. I thought they would come apart, that they would fall over, and that watering them would be too much of a pain. So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised on all these fronts.

Coming apart
There doesn’t seem to be much risk of this, actually. They are made of flexible plastic and come flat, like a sheet. There’s a series of tabs that keeps them together, like your better IKEA products. I will try not to take them apart in the fall, but rather to store them on their sides. I think if I wrap them gently in burlap and then store them horizontally in a sheltered location (like between my raised beds), the strawberries should overwinter okay in here and then I won’t have to replant them. (Planting them in the first place was kind of a pain, and I would rather not have to do it again.)

Falling over
They aren’t weighted extra at the bottom, and my initial plan was to put them inside another set of pots, then put rocks around the bases; but upon further pondering, I thought that might make them actually more uneven and likely to fall over. Plus my only rocks are in a disgusting wet pile in a laundry tub that was last year’s water feature, and I might get lockjaw if I touch them. (I’m waiting for all the water to evaporate, which it never will.) So far, we’ve had some strong winds and they haven’t tipped over.

On an unrelated note, does anyone want to come over and clean up some rocks? They’re super-gross. I don’t want to touch them. It could be like a volunteer gardening kind of thing. Bring your kids! They can learn about where food comes from!

There’s a central channel (like a piece of PVP pipe with holes – you can see what it looks like if you go to the Lee Valley page linked above) that helps ensure better watering. If anything, the plants on the bottom are flourishing more than those on the top, which is the opposite of what I was expecting. If I just use a jug of water to water into the pipe, it takes a couple liters to fill it, and then they don’t need to be watered again for a few days. (I imagine the tower format helps to prevent evaporation, and these don’t dry out as fast as some of my other pots. I also mulched the tops of them, because mulch is magic.)

Strawberries from WalMart
On an only tangentially related note, I bought about 40 strawberry plants from WalMart to fill these towers. They came as sets of ten bare-root plants, loosely packed in peat moss in a big plastic tub. To my surprise, only a few of the wimpier ones have died, and some of them are looking downright robust. I have little native alpine strawberry plants growing all over my yard, which I could have used for free, but for this project I wanted a few of the hardiest and most productive hybrids modern science could provide. Because when it comes to eating strawberries, you want the genetically engineered giant ones. (At least, I do. Mm! Tastes like science!)

I hope that once they start to send out runners, I can poke the runners into the bare holes and eventually fill them all up. (I left some of the holes empty, spreading 40 plants over two towers with 60 openings in total. This is basically because I am cheap. Also, strawberry plants love making more strawberry plants. That’s part of their raison d’etre. Far be it for me to deprive them of that opportunity!)

Cost breakdown
Total cost for this project – around $50 for the towers, which are re-useable, and I think the plants were around $25 in total. Plus potting soil, of which I did not require as much as I expected to need; these towers actually don’t have that much capacity. And I had some in my garage. So when we pin this to Pinterest, let’s call it a “Great project under $90!,” which doesn’t have much of a ring to it, actually. Since strawberries are around $4 a flat at this time of year, that means I only have to get the equivalent of 23 flats of berries from these towers. I imagine I’ll be in the black in no time. (Sigh.)