Monday, November 22, 2010

Strawberry Power

I'll get to the tomatoes in a second, but this first ...

Behold the Tower of Strawberries. Ha ha. I've been absurdly excited about this method of growing strawberries since I first heard of it a few years ago. For one thing, I'm a strawberry purist—like tomatoes, there's just no competition between grocery store strawberries and fresh strawberries. For another, stackable containers have all the elements I like: it saves space, looks cool, and allows me to control the growing environment.

There are a few kinds of stackable containers out there, but I ultimately went with AgroTower's product. According to the manufacturer, these are designed to work with drip irrigation hoses run up the center column, feeding the individual pots a steady stream of water and fertilizer. I didn't go that far for my first season—I'm hand watering and hand feeding. The pots are designed so water drips down through the column naturally, and although it's a little tricky to water the little pots without washing soil out, it's not that impossible. I know the commercial farms (like this U-pick farm in Delray) all use automatic irrigation, but for one tower, it's no big deal.

Planting was pretty easy. I drove a stake into the ground to give the tower support, then stacked and filled the containers with Fafard 3B potting soil. Overall, I've got 30 strawberry plants, plus six lettuce on the bottom. I rotate the tower every day to make sure all the plants are equally exposed to sunlight. If all goes well, I'm hoping to make jam this year. That's assuming I can keep my five-year-old away from the ripening berries. Last year, I did a few test strawberry plants and I think only one strawberry made it inside. The rest vanished down his gullet as soon as they were even close to ripe. Little monster.

As for the tomatoes, I used Daconil fungicide (chlorothalonil) and the septoria stopped spreading. What can I say, the stuff works. The Cherokee Purple is setting fruit; and the Brandywine is flowering fairly well. I had to get rid of the Heinz because too much damage was done, so I planted a few Big Boys to make up the difference. My schedule looks like mid-season: watering in the mornings; feeding once a week with Espoma Tomato-Tone fertilizer and magnesium; pinching off shoots; and tying up the vines as they grow. These heirlooms aren't as aggressive as some other vines, so they haven't yet hit the top of my cages. When (and if) they do, I'll top the vines to stop the upward growth. In general, heirlooms aren't typically as robust as heavy-producing hybrids, so the plants tend to grow slower, stay smaller and bear less fruit.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good—the tomatoes are mostly back in hand. I'm thinking in the future that if I have rapidly spreading septoria like that, I'll spray a lot earlier. Copper fungicide is great stuff for bacterial spot, but it was pretty useless against the septoria fungal spot. I think I could have saved myself a lot of aggravation if I'd treated the vulnerable plants right away. It might even be worth considering treating heirlooms preventively, right after planting. Food for thought ... and another season.

This has also (again) made me appreciate the wonders of modern hybrids. Heirlooms are great tasting, but for sheer production and ease, go with a disease resistant variety.


  1. Did you plant your strawberries from seed, or pick up runner plants from the market? Just curious.

  2. I bought transplants. I'm still new to strawberry world, so I bought a few flats of strawberries. I'll likely try seeds ... any recommendations for good varieties?

  3. The ones I planted indoors in July were the "Rugen Improved" variety, which are a small, sweet, everbearing Alpine type.

    I froze them (seed packet inside Ziploc, in the freezer) for a month or so before planting. About 3/4 of what we planted came up (did 4-5 seeds each in about 15 small holes), and we have about six healthy plants in the bowl-container now.

    They started out almost invisibly small, but now they look almost mature - I'm hoping for flowers any day now. When I finally get a fruit I'll let you know :)