Saturday, 3 November 2012

Strawberries by the Basketful

I'm still mostly in the planning stages of this wee puppy. OK, I've planted some seeds to germinate, and I managed to put in a 1 square metre garden a couple of months back, which is doing really well, but basically so far, it's all effort for very little reward.

I guess there's no other way to start with vege gardening, unless you want to buy mature plants, which defeats the purpose somewhat. The plan, over the next couple of months, is to build four more Square Foot Gardens, which, despite the name, are not a square foot in size. These will hopefully, over time, contribute 75% of vegetable consumption for our family of five, without too much in the way of preserving.

But not this weekend!

Mainly because even if I did put them in, I'd have nothing to plant in them, so they'd just be a great big litter box for the neighbourhood cats. No one wants that, except the neighbourhood cats. So, while I wait for my seedlings to grow, I decided to play with:
I have two baskets just the same (you didn't need to see a picture of each, did you?) that I began a few weeks back by planting in the bottom of the hanging baskets. That's why there's more happening with the bottom plants; they've had a chance to settle in. The top plants, I got 'reduced to clear' this weekend. Shops have basically stopped selling strawberry plants for the season, which is a shame, because I haven't stopped wanting to buy them!

Baskets like this are really easy to do, but there are things I'll do differently when I add more hanging baskets to the collection after Christmas. (Why I say after Christmas, when the traditional planting time is winter or spring, is because there are a few strawberry farms nearby. After Christmas they open their fields to "pick your own" customers and also start selling their strawberry runners at very reasonable prices, just because their peak selling season is over. I plan on taking advantage.)

Next time, I'll plant 10 strawberries to a basket, rather than the six you see here. There will be three more spaced round the upper half of the sides, and one directly on the bottom. They don't mind hanging upside down. I'm not too worried about them running out of nutrients either, because as they're in coconut matting, a lot of the water I put in, runs out the bottom, leeching the soil of goodness. So I'll be feeding them regularly as it is. And quite frankly, I think a big ball of hanging strawberry plant will look fairly spectacular. I'm looking forward to seeing it!

Anyway, to plant them, you need to start with the basket empty, and the coconut matting waterlogged. Make small holes with your fingers, or a knife/scissors if the matting is too thick, and poke the roots of your plants thorough. Try to close up the holes as much as you can afterwards so the potting mix doesn't escape.

Now's a good time to say that I wished I'd taken a moment at this point to mix through water crystals/crystal rain into the compost potting mixture that I used to plant them. It would have saved me a job later when I realised that that kind of hanging basket is a real pain for not holding the water you give it. Crystal rain stopped the plants from shrivelling up, even though I was watering every day!

Now you fill the baskets with your choice of pot plant mixture, making sure the roots are completely surrounded with soil, and not pressed up against the coconut, as you go. Then plant the plants on top, and it's done.

It's a great way to grow strawberries, with benefits that you don't get when they are in a garden bed.
*The air circulates round them easily, so they don't rot and the fruit stays fresh longer.

*Many of the pests that get at your crops can't reach them (including little fingers!).

*They're very portable.

*And they do look pretty!

I'll take another picture mid-summer so we can see how it's changed with time, probably at the same time that I'm planting up the other baskets I want to have (can you tell I like strawberries?). Ultimately, we need enough plants to keep up with a few strawberries per day per person in our house, and then a few more to freeze for desserts and baking during the off season.

We won't get that this year, but for now, we'll get a taste :)

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