Without further ado, let’s dive into formal project mode. Well…. as formal as we do it.
For this project, we actually had two unrelated problems:
- The strawberry terrace had been servicing us OK for a number of years now, but it was not working optimally. The plants in there were getting a bit old, it was very hard to keep the boxes damp through the dry summer and most crucially, parts of the terrace were starting to fall apart. I’d rather do something about it than the whole structure collapses on a certain little girl that loves foraging for strawberries…
- On the one side in our greenhouse we built in a raised bed, in which we thought we would grow some vegetables in order to extend their growing and thereby harvesting season. However, we have only had marginal success from the greenhouse box. We have now made peace with the concept of eating whatever is in season. Interestingly enough, nature provides the right minerals, nutrients and vitamins at the right time of the year, but that’s another discussion in itself. I now needed that side of the greenhouse to germinate seeds and to propagate more cuttings for planting in spring.
So it looked like two totally independent projects. However, detailed analysis showed that the two projects had many touch points:
- Some of the “good wood” of the strawberry terrace can be used to build the shelves in the greenhouse.
- Most of the hardwood of the greenhouse raised box can be used as-is to create a conventional raised bed for strawberries in place of the terrace.
- Some of the irrigation pipes and fittings could be reused and be adapted to suit the new environment.
Besides, the raised bed in the greenhouse was exactly where the new shelves had to go, and the strawberry terrace was exactly where the new raised bed had to go… so some clever shuffling and timing had to be worked out to minimise unnecessary effort. So with a clear plan in my head and nothing committed to paper, I was ready to jump to work.
With a lot of re-use aimed for, we had minimal outlay costs. I had to buy a few boxes of medium-sized screws and few lengths of hardwood, because the outside strawberry box was to be way wider than the inside boxes. (I also needed more hardwood and cedar posts for fire pit benches). All the other stuff we already had enough of as leftovers from previous projects.
Later in the project I needed to buy a few more irrigation fittings, as it is quite a challenge (for me anyway) to get the irrigation on the greenhouse shelves perfectly right.
The first step was to save some of the strawberry plants from the terrace, so we don’t have to buy new ones for the new raised bed. What a project this turned out to be – I couldn’t believe how many plants were in that terrace! I transplanted about 20 plants into another bed, saved about 30 for the new bed, and there were still many, like really many, left both in the terrace beds and growing amongst the grasses under the terrace.
We ended up with more than 250 plants in various sizes of pots. Fortunately we kept most of the pots from all our Dreamland plantings, so we could re-use them all. In fact, at one stage I still had a lot of runners lying in water to encourage their root growth, so that number went up to around 300. In springtime we can hopefully sell some seedlings, either that, or a lot of friends and family are going to be getting strawberry plants for birthday or early Christmas presents!
Enter Mr Demolisher
Next step was to take the terrace apart. This started off OK, and a lot of useful fittings, screws and wood was “saved”. That was, until we ran into the old Philips screws that held the initial part of the structure together. They were so rusted and stuck, the drill didn’t make any impact, apart from just stripping their heads further. So Mr Demolisher brought on the heavy hammer, and boy, did he have fun! Of course he re-tuned my playlist to Elvis for this exercise… “And it’s a one for the money, two for the show, bang, bang, bang, go cat go!”
After this I cleared the area and prepared it for the new strawberry bed. During this process I uncovered quite a few more runners that had started growing under the terrace. Expand more coir, mix more seedling mix, clean more small pots, plant more runners, repeat.
The big move
The hardest work was to clear the raised bed from the greenhouse. It’s basically impossible to get the wheelbarrow out of the greenhouse, over the high threshold, when it is loaded. So I had to park it with the wheel outside and then scoop-walk the soil from the bed into the wheelbarrow. Quite a substantial move it was, and it amounted to quite a few trips too. I can’t recall carting in so much soil, but then again, that was a long time ago.
The fun part was moving the hardwood itself. I literally screwed the new box together as I removed each piece from the greenhouse. A handful of stripped rusted screws on the brackets inside the box, but nothing we haven’t dealt with before. I was excited to see the new box taking shape as the area was being cleared in the greenhouse.
No-dig bed nth iteration
Having done a few no-dig beds over at Dreamland, it almost seemed like second nature filling the new strawberry bed. Thick cardboard, straw, compost, Lucerne mulch, cow manure, straw, chicken manure, more Lucerne mulch (hopefully it was the last time I had to buy Lucerne mulch, but I’ve said that before…), followed by a thin layer of “veggie-mix” top-soil. Irrigation fitted.
I then planted the box with the best of the young plants I had saved. The middle row was planted from root divisions while the two side rows were planted with runners that had already created roots. Come on summer!
The trickiest work was building the shelves in the greenhouse and fitting their irrigation. Luckily three of the cross beams from the old terrace structure fitted in exactly the length of the greenhouse, so all I had to juggle were the uprights. I demolished an old pallet, and with a little bit of sawing I got the two remaining uprights I needed as well as most of the cross-supports needed to keep the two frames together and on which the trays would lie. The fun part was screwing the back and front frames together in the limited space in the greenhouse. But with some “clever space utilisation” and liberal use of clamps I got it all done.
Then came the finicky part – fitting the irrigation. If you have the sprayers too low, or the wrong sprayers in there, then you have seedlings on the outside of the tray that dry out. If you have it too high, or another type of incorrect sprayer in there, it sprays all over the floor, and with a rough paved floor, that just encourages all kinds of weeds and grasses, as well as the odd raspberry runner from outside, to grow between the pavers. The tricky part is managing the water pressure while you experiment on only one sector. You have to keep the pressure and flow low enough to be representative of when the irrigation will be running with the whole of the greenhouse turned on.
I first experimented on the existing shelf with some new sprayers I got from Total Eden. When I eventually got the height right, they worked so well I could double the number of seedlings on the existing shelf. That was almost enough for my immediate need!
Left before irrigation fix, right full house
But of course, we have big plans to grow many, many more seedlings and make cuttings to fill up the beds over at Dreamland that are still covered with weed mat. Besides, I can always bring some of those 300 odd young strawberries into the greenhouse over winter. So I set out to copy the irrigation scheme (in concept) on the new shelves too. Of course, it was slightly different so some adjustments had to be made…
One of my little challenges was to get the 4mm irrigation pipes to hang straight down. Because they sell them in a tight little coil, of course they won’t hang straight. But I need the sprayers dead centre over the trays to work properly. At first I created little guiding struts from landscaping wire, which I stuck in one of the punnets. But that’s a real pain, as it moves every time you touch anything close by. Then I got the brainwave to run a guiding wire length-wise over the middle of each self, to which I could tie the little down pipes. Now I can move, replace or do with punnets whatever I need to, and the sprayers stay in place. It worked so well, I retrofitted it onto the old shelves too. Such a simple concept, why didn’t I think of it before?
As I’m finishing the second and third layers’ irrigation on the new shelves when I get little filler gaps between other projects, the young berries outside in the raised box look quite content – even though it is very early days. The shelves and irrigation also seem to work well enough. So I’m very happy with the outcome. We should have done this from the start – but of course, hindsight is 20-20 vision.
Naturally, there are always little things you could have done better. For one, there is a section of irrigation pipe sticking out next to the new strawberry bed that is a permanent trip trap! I think I have to get down there on my knees and fix that – I’m just not sure how exactly to squeeze in the corners pieces and T-junctions to be totally out of the way, but I’m sure on the day the jigsaw will somehow fall into place. I also still need to clean up around the strawberry bed and squeeze some half-sized pavers in the gaps in order to reduce weed and grass growing there. It’s on the list for one day…
But other than those little issues, I think it’s time to make some more cuttings for spring planting and fill more of those shelves!