The Nickel Pincher: Grow Strawberries the Easy Way!

Got a small patio and a reusable bag? You'll get bowls full of strawberries, without a side of pesticides.

May 10, 2012

Just $20 will buy you the supplies you need for a summer's worth of strawberries.

If you've never had homegrown strawberries fresh off the vine, you've never really had strawberries. So much more intensely flavorful than those oversize orbs at the grocery store, a crop of backyard strawberries can remind you why you love this fruit.


And the easiest, cheapest way to grow them requires nothing more than an unused reusable shopping bag and a quick trip to a nursery for some strawberry plants and potting mix. The project can cost you less than $10 (you can't even get two week's worth of organic strawberries for that price!) and takes 20 minutes start to finish.

Organic Strawberries: Better for Honeybees

You'll need:

6 to 8 strawberry plants

1 sturdy reusable shopping bag

1 32-quart bag organic potting mix, like Scotts MiracleGro Organic Choice

1 bottle liquid organic tomato food; try Terracycle's Tomato Plant Food

1 sturdy crate or small outdoor table

The how-to:

1. Use your scissors to cut some drainage holes in the bottom of your bag.

2. Cut a horizontal slit about two inches long in the center of the bag's front and in the center of its back.

3. Next, cut similar slits in the two long sides of your bag. Our bag is about 20 inches tall, so we cut two slits per side. Make the first slit a few inches above the base and the second slit at least 6 inches above the first. If your reusable bag is shorter, between 11 and 15 inches tall, just make a single slit in each side, about halfway between the top and the bottom of the bag.

4. Situate your sturdy crate or table somewhere that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, and place the bag on it. Make sure the bag sits at least a foot off the ground, so the plants hang down without touching the ground, which helps keep them clean, disease free, and away from creepy crawlies who might chew on your berries.

5. Now fill your bag with potting mix to the level of the lowest slits (or the single slit if your bag is shorter). Pick up the bag and thump it down firmly to settle the soil.

6. Working from the inside, poke the leaves and the crown (the thick center section between the roots and the leaves) of one plant through each slit and spread the roots out. 

7. If you have a taller bag (taller than 15 inches), continue filling the bag with potting mix up to the next level of slits, and repeat step 4.

8. Fill the remainder of your bag with potting mix to within 2 inches of the top, and thump the bag one last time to settle your mix. Spread out the roots of your last two plants on top of the mix, and cover the roots with mix, filling the bag within ½ inch of the top. Just make sure the crown of each plant is out of the potting mix and its roots are completely covered.

9. Water until the potting mix is evenly moist. Water every two or three days to keep the soil evenly moist; in hot, dry weather you may need to water every day. Should the potting mix get very dry, set the entire bag in a sink or tub filled with a couple inches of water, and let the bag's contents soak up water until the mix is moist right up to the top, usually within a few hours.

10. Rotate your bag 180 degrees every two to three days, so all the plants get sun exposure. Once a week, feed the plants with organic fertilizer according to the label directions.

Then, just wait for your berries to appear! Once you see flowers, you can expect ripe berries in just a couple of weeks. Wait until each berry is evenly colored and a tiny bit soft before you harvest.

Don't toss your bag or the plants once they stop producing fruit, either. Move it into a sheltered, unheated location that's protected from cold but not so exposed that your plants will freeze solid. Water it once a month, and move it back outdoors next spring when the daffodils are blooming. You'll be able to enjoy another crop of homegrown, organic strawberries without any hassle.

Plant suggestions:

Your best bet for strawberry varieties to grow in a container are day-neutrals, which produce full-size berries, or alpines, which produce small but incredibly tasty fruits. Alpines have the added benefit of bearing fruit continuously from spring through the first fall frost. Some of the best day-neutral varieties to look for are 'Evie,' 'Tribute,' 'Tristar,' and 'Fern.' Alpine strawberries come in red, yellow, and occasionally white, and are often sold without a variety name.

If your local nursery doesn't have day-neutrals look for an everbearing variety, which produces two crops of strawberries a year, once in late spring and again in late summer. Look for 'Seascape,' 'Ozark Beauty,' 'Ogallala,' and 'Quinault.'

Just avoid June bearers, which take a while to establish and aren't ideal for containers.

Tags: Rodale News