Strawberry fields forever

In those early years we really wanted to grow prize strawberries. In fact, to this day, we still want to. But in these years we were plagued by snails that ate massive holes in all our to-be-strawberries. We even put nice beer out for them in snail traps, but that didn’t seem to detract them much. So we had to make another plan.

 We studied various models of growing strawberries – tunnels, terraces, plastic sheets – there are so many ways to grow them. Finally we decided we were going to make a “new” hybrid terrace, borrowing from hydroponics, but still growing them in organic soil. So you probably know where this is going? Sure, another trip to the hardware warehouse, another big project on the cards. I ended up building an overly sturdy structure from untreated construction wood – hardwood sleepers were just too expensive for this job. On this I layered the widest deepest gutters I could source, and in the gutters we had organic acidy soil and drip irrigation pipes. Ironic, we didn’t want to plant them on plastic sheets, but were quite OK with planting them in plastic gutters… Anyway, with great excitement we bought some strawberry plants from the hardware warehouse down the road and ordered some seedlings from Diggers and planted them in our hybri-ponic terrace. Now we were going to produce strawberries!

 

Strawberry terrace - initial design

Gutter-based strawberry terrace

 

Alas, the guttered strawberry terrace looked better than what it worked. We had a very harsh summer that first year and the little strawberry plants battled to stay alive, despite regular watering. The gutters were either flooded mud straight after watering, or they dried out so quickly in the blazing sun that the soil turned to loose dust. Needless to say, the strawberries didn’t fare very well.

Exactly one year later, right about strawberry planting time, another trip was made to the hardware warehouse – this time to get more durable wood to build large wooden boxes on the terrace framework. Of course, I had the framework, didn’t I?

 

Strawberry terrace project

The start of yet another project…

 

So off came the gutters with a bang as they dropped to the ground. Do you know how heavy a gutter is when it is filled with winter-rain logged soil?

So, after much engineering to build the larger boxes into the frame that was purpose-made for thin narrow gutters, we had three large boxes on stilts. We filled that with new soil, transplanted the few plants we could save from the gutters that had been dropped to the ground and inter-mixed those with new replacements from Diggers again. Now we were going to produce strawberries!

 

Strawberry terrace 2

Modified strawberry terrace

 

Of course, Ricky, the horse on the property next door, discovered he could reach over the fence to the top box and promptly devoured all the strawberry plants closest to his fence. Funny, he never did that with the gutter-terrace, but then again, maybe those plants never grew enough to look appetising. So that required putting up an extension to the fence to keep Ricky out. And since then, that wasn’t the only place we had to do that! Don’t worry, he doesn’t go hungry – we have ordered in straw to feed him, he gets carrots and all kinds of edibles from the garden and a regular dose of dandelion, which he devours!

Today, three years later, those boxes on stilts are still producing some strawberries. But only some strawberries… The strawberries we planted in our normal standard raised beds – in normal organic soil, intermixed with some companion plants like lettuce,  and which get normal vegetable garden irrigation – are out-bearing the terrace strawberries by a mile. They’re not that much plagued by snails anymore either. I don’t know what happened to the snails – maybe the fact that we’re not feeding them beer anymore has sent them off to the neighbours? Or maybe just the fact that I step on them when I see them early on wettish mornings has reduced their numbers…

Well, I’m just waiting for the terrace to collapse (as if it will, being so sturdily built) then I will put a normal long raised bed in its place to grow more strawberries conventionally. Then we will be producing strawberries!

Lessons learnt

  • Sure, you can construct the most amazing terraces for strawberries and other plants, but it’s not necessarily always the best place to grow them. Maybe it’s better to imitate nature and grow them in a more natural habitat and they will bear much better.
  • It’s not always necessary to go to great extremes to avoid a pest – in some cases things balance itself out over time and get itself under control. Maybe if we had ducks in that era, it would have been a better way to handle the snail problem.
About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (46 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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