We can often learn from the commercial growers. They have to grow decent crops with minimum labour to keep in business. This reader is asking about growing strawberries off the ground to avoid some of the problems of growing strawberries in the ground.
Hi John, I really look forward to your emails and advice. My plot is very free draining and this year because of recent heavy rain a good crop of strawberries got very badly splashed with the soil, causing quite a few to rot and the rest needing a lot of washing, also I now find it difficult to pick them (old bones and aching joints) so I was wondering if you knew of any methods of growing them off the ground similar to the way the commercial growers do. I am quite handy at turning old pallets’ into troughs and planters.
Thank you Terry
Hi Terry – Good to hear from you.
Strawberries are delicious and we’re not the only ones who love them. The slugs love them and the birds love them so, whilst not a difficult crop to grow, they’re a difficult crop to get.
Old Method of Growing Strawberries
The old method of putting straw under the plants (I wonder if that’s where the name comes from) would protect the berries from soil splashes and rot. At the end of the year when the foliage had died off leaving dry dead leaves, the straw was set on fire. This cleared the plant tops off and killed the pests. It didn’t stop the birds though. See: How to Grow Strawberries – A Brief Guide to Growing Strawberries
Commercial Methods of Growing Strawberries
So the commercial growers moved onto growing on waist-high, long trestle tables. The ground pests, primarily slugs, were kept off them. Crop management – cutting off the runners and harvesting – was far easier. No bending down and bad backs!
That still didn’t stop the birds though but because most commercial growers were growing in polytunnels, they weren’t a problem. Incidentally, strawberries really do well in a polytunnel or greenhouse. The extra warmth makes a huge difference.
Polytunnel Growing Strawberries
I grow all my strawberries in the polytunnel now. Some in a strawberry barrel, some through weed matting in the border but best of all is growing strawberries in hanging baskets. The baskets are more trouble than growing waist-high but they’re making great use of space. I can still grow as normal in the borders under the baskets.
Back to growing strawberries on trestles.
The Trough Method.
Pick up or build troughs around a foot wide and 8 inches deep (or deeper). Fill with good compost. I like to add perlite to lighten it and help the roots spread. Plant quite closely, 6 inches apart placing the plants to the sides so the fruits will overhang the sides. A drip line can be run up the centre of the troughs. If this is tank-fed, they can be fed through this with liquid feed. Either a commercial tomato feed or homemade such as comfrey tea.
Be aware of weight when building the trestles – wet compost will weigh around 60 kg per yard run.
The Grow Bag Method
Strawberries are easy to grow in grow bags which can be laid on the trestle table. You can fit around 10 plants per bag. You’ll need to feed and water which can be tricky with grow bags. Using something like a Speed Feed Grow Bag Irrigator you can quickly water and feed the bags.
I’d say the grow bag method is the easiest and will give a clean crop but I’m not keen on having to start from scratch each year. Even if you propagate your own plants, you’ll still need fresh bags.
It strikes me that it should be easy to construct trestles with hoops or a frame on. This could be covered with polythene or netting to provide a bird-proof, warm growing environment.