June 5, 2011

Strawberry Improvements

It started a few years back, when my Mom brought strawberry starts from her house in Spokane, WA to our farm. We made a small patch in the upper corner of the garden and planted the berries. For the past four years the garden has grown by about 5ft each year and the strawberries have expended to fill much of that space. However, we didn't keep them in rows and the result was that last summer we couldn't reach more than half of the berries. Those that didn't mold were eaten by the birds. Time to create some rows.

The first two were immediately adjacent to the original patch. For the final two rows we would have to expand the garden one last time. We used the "lasagna gardening" technique (there is a past with the same name if you want to learn more) because there is no need to kill or till under the grass, you just work on top. It was relatively easy and created a beautiful rich, fluffy soil ready to be planted. As of this spring, we have 4 rows of strawberries each roughly 50 feet long. And I can walk between the rows to harvest. If I can get out there before the birds eat everything.

The other not-well-thought-out thing we did was to place netting over the original patch. I know that sounds like exactly what you should do but the problem was that we stakes which stood about 2 feet above the ground. The result was that the plants would grow through the netting. And it was a pain to try and move back to harvest underneath. My Mom saw in a magaz
ine, or maybe in the newspaper I forget, a way to use PVC piping to create nice arches to set the netting over. Luckily the previous owners of our farm had assembled a haphazard irrigation system along the driveway that we have never used. But the PVC has stayed in place, above ground hidden by grass and rose bushes that never actually need to be watered.

My Dad volunteered to cut the piping and dig the holes. He found some large piping in the barn that the smaller irrigation pipes could slide into and starting hacking. Then he got to dig 18 deep holes. After the first row he said "I forgot how hard it is to dig holes." When he was in high school he took a summer job on a ranch running fence. He thought it would be a great adventure riding horse, sleep out in a tent, mending fences. In reality is was hot, dusty work that consisted primarily of digging holes to set fence posts. Of course when he got back to school in the fall he told all his friends that he got to "be a cowboy" for the summer.

My Mom and my job was to put the larger pipes in the wholes and fill
around with dirt. We used a 2x4 to thump the dirt down and make sure each would provide a secure anchor for the arch. Then we set the arches. Lastly we spread the netting over. My Mom said "You know. If you got down on your hands and knees you could crawl through to pick berries and never have to pull the netting back." I had a better idea "You could lay on one of those auto mechanic's carts and just roll through." Both ideas made for a really nice visual. In reality I think we'll just lift up the netting.

At the end of the day, looking down from the back deck while BBQing hamburgers, it garden was starting to look like we actually know what we are doing.

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