Show off with strawberries

Grow your own fruit from the comfort of your patio

newDonnawebIf you had a chance to get sweet fruit right off your patio instead of a California truck, would you go for it?

What if fruit from home was also a chance to use recycled materials and have a lot of fun?

Sold.

In late May, money manager Rob Gray asked me to do a hands-on planting session with his clients. He wanted a chance to laugh and chat with clients and staff in an informal setting. We had worked together before, so he knew I was a closet urban farmer and keen food advocate.

I arranged for plants, soil, fertilizer and the secret ingredient: up-cycled plastic water bottles. These bottles have been converted to food-safe fabric bags that will last for years. They are perfect for planting summer crops of all kinds, including strawberries, petunias and potatoes. Once planted, the pots sit in a plastic flood tray or bin and wick water as needed. It’s a sip-and-go system with very little day-to-day care.

Instead of roots wrapping around the bottom of a regular plastic pot, the roots in “fabric” pots breathe. As the roots grow to the edge of the pots, they are naturally air-pruned. As the day warms, the water wicking pots naturally cool the roots.

A Saskatchewan strawberry farmer suggested the Rootpouch brand of pots to me. Dean Kreutzer now grows all his strawberries and his whole vegetable garden in Rootpouch bags even though he has a real farm with real soil.

On the evening of Rob’s program, I showed up with soil, 50 fabric bags, 300 strawberry plants and organic fertilizer, while Gray’s team provided drinks and snacks.

Last year, some of the clients at the edible flower workshop I orchestrated wore party dresses because they thought it was a garden party, not a planting party. This year, everyone was instructed to bring garden gloves and dress casual. After all, it can get messy working with dirt, water and alcohol.

I demonstrated how to shove one plant through each of the two side holes we cut in the bags and then plant four strawberries on top, creating a total of six plants in each 19-litre bag. Yes, some people broke their strawberries, dropped them on the floor or otherwise mishandled them. Luckily, strawberries are frost and abuse tolerant, but they love full sun. Everyone left with something resembling a miniature strawberry farm.

I loved Dean’s idea so much I installed a row of 20 pots at home. The first of hundreds of berries are now ripening.

Strawberries prefer full sun, but with the flood trays they only need watering every four to five days. Best of all, I don’t need to rely on California farms for sweet and juicy berries picked right off my patio this summer.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and entertaining speaker. Check out her blog at www.gardenguru.net or follow her on twitter @NoGuffGardener.

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