Strawberry Fields – Not Quite Forever

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Last fall I planted about 75 Chandler June bearing plants……they began producing at the beginning with a “beauty” on February 14th, scored a few points by giving the first Berry to my bride…….yeah, almost June bearing LOL. Half of the new plantings were in plastic covered raised beds, about a quarter in version #4 of my strawberry tower and the remainder in a strawberry specific pottery vessel. The link included goes back into the history of my efforts with strawberry towers. The three inch diameter towers have been mothballed for a couple of years. Fall of 2019 I snagged a piece of heavy wall 6 inch pipe…..it was challenging to build the pockets.

Not perfect and the thick pipe wall created challenges making the pockets. I will need to write a separate post with details!


Surprisingly this has been my most successful use of the pottery style planter for strawberries. Previous years were sparse.

My raised bed planting under the plastic sheet have been disappointing. The biggest source of my disappointment is with my poor choice of plastic covering. In fact, it was much more than disappointing, it was a bonehead mistake. Yes, in my haste, I grabbed the wrong material, didn’t read the label, installed it and planted all the berry plants before I realized my mistake. I will remedy the error at the end of picking season.

One of my 4’ X 24’ raised beds has been fallow for two years due to my laziness. Lazy no more! By the coming weekend it will be reframed and planted. Most likely candidates will be cucumbers and pole beans. I am growing potatoes in pots again this year and will place them strategically around the beds. The sugar snap peas went in late but I should be able to harvest before the Houston heat lays them low. Carrots and beets also went in late but …….. life goes on.

Bees will be keeping me busier as the summer approaches. It looks like it could be a very bountiful year. I sure wish I hadn’t wrecked my truck. Turns out it is too expensive to repair so I have to jump through the hoops to get the check and shop for another. I think I said it before……. life goes on.

FYI- gardening is a pretty good social distancing tool or activity. Frame building for the beehives also works well.



Getting My Hands Dirty – Real Dirty

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It has been a long “dry spell”- if you will, a drought for my Gardening Blog. I haven’t stopped gardening but have found/made little time to write about getting my hands dirty in the garden. My beer blog….I seem to find more time to write about my favorite beverages!!!! http://bishopsbeerblog.com/

The garden has slowed down at the end of a long hot summer. All of the tomato plants have been pulled save one. It looks like I may be able to squeeze out a couple more “maters”. The asparagus patch is over head high with ferns and if I peek under the foliage I can still find a few spears to snap off and eat as I work. I shared one with a visitor last week and she couldn’t believe how sweet the spears were! I have carrots coming up, beets have sprouted, the sugar snap peas are climbing, strawberry beds are looking good and my two banana trees have started to dominate their locations……not sure if they will become permanent members because of their size. One of then is a bit unique, a manzano (apple) banana. I have also heard it referred to as a manzanillo….Regardless of the name, I am told that they are very sweet.

Strawberries….I added 50 Chandler plugs and 50 Sweet Charlie plugs on the day before Halloween. I like the ease of planting the plugs I order form Ison’s Nursery. http://www.isons.com/

I used my wood lathe to turn a dibble; From Wikpedia – “A dibber or dibble is a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted. Dibbers come in a variety of designs including the straight dibber, T-handled dibber, trowel dibber, and L-shaped dibber. ” I found some images on my internet  search and I must say….some people can turn some very nice ones….Mine was a quick utilitarian effort….it works and was sized to match the plugs! The strawberry towers are filled and I can’ wait for the February/Spring crop!

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Isaon's

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Ison’s

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My beehive is humming along…..sorry about the pun! The mouse guard is in place for the winter and has obviously kept the fat toad out of the hive. My daughter had seen him hanging out near the entrance but I actually found him nestled inside with his head poking out through the entrance….wonder how many he ate! I shooed him away and installed the barrier.

Back to bananas for a moment – The Mexican family that that gave me the corms, also gave me a family tradition for making tamales. They use the banana leaves! They hold the leaf over a gas burner moving it back and forth until it becomes pliable. They then use the banana leaf like you would the corn husk. Here is a pork tamale recipe. I think I will give it a try. Marcelino  tells me that they are much more moist than the traditional method. http://www.food.com/recipe/pork-tamales-in-banana-leaves-tamales-con-puerco-381926

PS – while out to dinner last night at the restaurant my wife looked at my hands and shook her head. I know what she was thinking….”you have nice gardening gloves yet you choose to just let your hands get dirty!!!!!!!” I tried, I really did try to scrub everything clean. The problem –  I have a fingernail on my right hand that was crushed many years ago and it grows goofy looking creating a dirt trap. So, as she was looking and shaking her head my mind quietly said, “yes dear!!!!!!!”


Paused for a week…..computer issues and then one of my many trips to Williston, North Dakota.  Now, about those very dirty hands. I had ignored my composting worms for too long. The drain off the bottom of the bin was plugged up and I knew the bottom tray was probably getting saturated. Oh yes, absolutely full. No problem, I made up a 5 gallon bucket of worm compost tea. I fed the majority of the tea to the newly planted strawberry pugs now thriving in the strawberry towers. My sugar snap peas are starting to climb but appear fragile. I harvested about 4 pounds of worm poop and spot fed the peas as well as giving a good dose to my asparagus ferns. I am very hopeful for a huge asparagus crop next spring.

My wife had the paper shredder fired up taking all of the probable confidential mail to create worm bedding.  The identity thieves will certainly have a tougher time putting the stripss back together. I also use the worms to take the ground up eggshells and make some calcium rich fertilizer. Between the worms and my big outdoor compost bins I send very little to the landfill.

Now wash hands thoroughly and make a sandwich with my homemade sourdough bread. Later on today I need to make the sourdough sponge for tomorrow’s baking day!




Strawberry Towers Forever V 3.1


Version 3.1 is under construction with a couple of key changes. Version 1.0 was made with 2″ PVC (too small in diameter but close to being tall enough). The slots for planting were drilled with a hole saw. I shredded my fingers while planting the crowns because I failed to sand the rough edges. The density was very good but it was a challenge to keep them properly watered. Check out the start of my strawberry tower experiments here.

I toyed with, played around with…………poor choice of words…..I am always wanting to improve on the prior efforts so I have modified V 1.0 and V 2.0 and then V 3.0 ……. 3.0 was not well thought out and the added pockets on the short towers were not well spaced out. They were crowded, impinged upon the others and looked ugly….but the berries grew pretty well.

With V 3.1 I started with 3″ PVC drain pipe and I chose the version that created pockets rather than drilled holes. I spaced them a little closer and arranged them in a logical and orderly fashion. I should be able to get 28 plants in a space that would have held 2-3 plants in a matted row system and much easier for an old guy to harvest without bending over.

The photos below show the construction process. Some time soon I will fill the pockets!

Started with a center line snapped with a chalk line on 3" PVC drain pipe.

Started with a center line snapped with a chalk line on 3″ PVC drain pipe.

I left a space of 12″ at the top for a water reservoir above the first pocket. I space the remaining slots at 9″ vertically between pockets. I snapped another snapped line at about 90 degrees left and right. The pockets were staggered to better spread out the plants.

A snapped chalk line as a starting point. First pocket at 12" in order for reservoir at the top.

A snapped chalk line as a starting point. First pocket at 12″ in order for reservoir at the top.

Using a saw and a slotted box to cut a slot to be shaped later.

Using a saw and a slotted box to cut a slot to be shaped later with the heat from a paint stripper.

I use a paint stripper to heat up the plastic above the cut slot in order to shape the pockets.

Paint stripper used to heat the PVC pipe to soften the plastic so I can shape it. Posed picture but it pretty much shows the process.

Paint stripper used to heat the PVC pipe to soften the plastic so I can shape it. Posed picture but it pretty much shows the process.

I keep a leather glove on the hand that I use to shape the softened plastic PVC.

Using my gloved hand to mold and shape the pocket. Use a leather glove as the plastic is hot.

Using my gloved hand to mold and shape the pocket. Use a leather glove as the plastic is hot.

There is a blank space at the bottom. I use a post hole digger and plant the tower about 12 inches deep for stability.

Me with a tower.

Me with a tower.

Closer view with my Christmas t-shirt "Decker's Homegrown Produce.

Closer view with my Christmas t-shirt “Decker’s Homegrown Produce.

Closer look at the layout.

Closer look at the layout.

A pocket on a V 2.0 model with a Chandler plant, This is what the new tower will resemble once filled

A pocket on a V 2.0 model with a Chandler plant, This is what the new tower will resemble once filled




Strawberry Towers Forever


I think I have used that title before but being a simple guy …….. I am simple aren’t I? Don’ any of you answer that question.

I have been in withdrawals from my blogging habit……..hmmmmmm, maybe if it had indeed been a habit I would have been blogging every chance I had….isn’t that what habits create. So, I don’t quite have a blogging habit but I do derive a lot of pleasure from sharing my blog life, whether it be my gardening blog or my beer brewing blog. Rest assured that I haven’t been idle. I am still sweating through several T-shirts every time I am out working in the garden.

The heat has the tomatoes struggling so I yanked most of them and replanted with some high dollar grafted varieties from a local nursery. I am cautiously optimistic! I set my buddy John up with 3 new plants and his seem to actually be doing better than mine. His cucumbers are doing very well…..mine succumbed to the dreaded white fly attacks. I still have peppers doing well, the single eggplant has taken over a corner of the garden and my asparagus ferns look very healthy….it bodes well for next year.

Talking about next year. I had a bumper crop of strawberries and therefore a bumper canning effort for my low sugar strawberry preserves. I like the low sugar recipe, not just because of the reduced calories but primarily due to the fact that more of the berry flavor comes through! If you have followed me for a while you may remember my efforts with strawberry towers. It makes the garden grow vertically and keeps those nasty bugs that live in the beds off of the berries. I eschew using bug sprays of any type. My first attempt at strawberry towers worked ok but I shredded my hands and fingers planting the bare root plants through the small holes. My subsequent efforts were easier on the hands, created bigger but fewer pockets. I like volume when it comes to berry harvest!

So back to the drawing board. Not wanting to waste materials I sought out a way to make the first towers more user friendly. For my second generation efforts I had used an electric heat gun to soften the pockets and it gave me an idea. I took the original towers (first generation), heated the lower edge to soften the hole and stretched it like a protruding lower lip! I think it is going to work.

http://wp.me/p13JYy-5v  original post

http://wp.me/p13JYy-lP this post shows an image of the second generation tower

A close look at how the hole gets stretched once heated

A close look at how the hole gets stretched once heated

Modified and original views.

Modified and original views.

A look at my heat gun....a hairdryer on steroids. I call it my "Binford" hotter than Hell model!

A look at my heat gun….a hairdryer on steroids. I call it my “Binford” hotter than Hell model!

I am nursing my Pineberry (a white strawberry with red seeds) plantings, trying to root as many runners as I can. I hope to plant one tower entirely in the white colored Pineberries.

Tuesday my oldest son and I are off on a day long fishing adventure – gardening again on Wednesday. I will highlight a path he put in for me as I get caught up on the stories floating around in my head.



My Wife Loves Me Berry, Berry Much


A Handful of Berries

I had to travel again this past week but my garden was left in very good hands. Kathy watered, watched, weeded and sampled the garden bounty. The strawberry towers are really producing….the 3″ towers are just loaded up. Due to my shoddy record keeping I don’t remember what variety of berries were planted in the 3″ towers. The 4″ towers have Chandler berries……I do remember that much. The Chandler berries are far behind the other towers, but that’s not a bad thing….it means I can have home grown berries for many, many weeks.Both the berry towers and my wife are keepers!

I am having some good success with the potato cages and barrel. When I went out to the garden this evening, holding my wife’s hand as she took me out to see the “kids” I saw lots of new growth. The plants in the  two cages were up nearly 8 inches. I added leaf mulch right up to the tops and will repeat the process until the plants flower and die back…..I am already looking forward to harvest time. During the next few months I will probably dig down into the leaf mulch and rob some new potatoes before the big harvest.

Tomorrow  –  I will unwrap the tomato cages now that the threat of a freeze is gone. My friend John says that he has some blossoms already….we may have to pluck them off and let the plants get a little growth in before letting the blossoms set. He told me that the carrots and turnips are taking over the new 4X4 bed. In the old one he says the Edamame soy beans are up  several inches so we may need to get the next succession planted this weekend

I do have one concern about my wife and the strawberries – she just wants to eat them fresh and I like to use a good portion of the harvest for jam. She pointed out the fact that I still have 10 or so jars from last year to use up! I may have to give in and let her have her way…..hopefully with some fringe benefits. Whaddya think hun, do we have a deal?

Fresh Berries for Kathy

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