hydroponic strawberries

Orange Park, FL

Just started an outdoor project with strawberries grown hydroponically at waist level. Could be that nobody gives a hoot. I posted a msg in the "gardening" forum this AM and nobody bothered to respond. Is the rest of the country hydroponically 'brain-dead'? Is dirt the only way folks know how to grow veggies?
For those who follow this thread, Israel is one of the premier exporters of hydroponically grown strawberries. Who would have figured? And is it such an extraordinarily difficult gardening effort to master? Absolutely not! If Israel can do it in a barren desert, anybody in this country can do it.
They talk about those 'earth boxes' ad nausium in the veggie forum, and they all love paying $30 plus for a box to grow veggies in. I am thoroughly baffled by their idiocy.
Can anyone explain to me how people can $30 for a rectangular box with a simple water reservoir in the bottom? Maybe we are dealing with an older buying public that is on the verge of senility.
There are tremendous advantages re hydroponic gardening. Too many to list. Dirt gardening has too many negatives to list. Why is there not a greater effort to produce veggies via hydroponics?

Kansas City, MO

Hmmm... I totally agree with you, though I wouldn't have put it so colorfully. LOL!

I am just in the beginning phases of growing hydroponically too. Strawberries is one of the things that I'm working on. But I'm turning my basement into a grow room, one part of it anyway. I hope to one day have the entire basement turned into a massive growing project.

You can see my set up and tons of pics on my blog. It's archived for the last couple of months if you want to go back and see the extremely raw pictures I started with :)

Thumbnail by suzimcmullen
Franklin, TX

Hey, if you haven't checked lately, this is a free nation and everyone can do whatever they like. Some like to plant in the dirt and others like you have a dirty mouth (although it appears you restrained yourself somewhat).

Just something to think about, maybe your attitude is the reason for not getting more replies.

But happy growing anyway.

Orange Park, FL

sorry about that. It just gets so frustrating when I continually read about these over-priced earth boxes. A bit of ingenuity goes a long way, and btw, all of my hydroponic efforts have been from scratch -- no plans, nobody else's ideas. And it works! And at a fraction of the cost of the earth boxes.
I can understand why some folks would build their own eb's. A whole lot cheaper and does just as well as the $30 model.

Great Falls, VA(Zone 6b)

If I had seen your post months ago, I would have responded,

I'm just wondering how did the strawberries do? What form of hydro are you using -- what's your design like?

I have made my own earthboxes and have a small hydro unit (it has an aquarium pump which circulates the water continually over the roots) in the house. I've been growing Italian parsley in it and it loves it. Cilantro on the other hand did not seem to like it at all. The eb's (some of which I bought used and some of which I built) grew Swiss chard, tomatos, peppers, eggplant, celery, onions and green beans. The Swiss chard is still going strong. Celery is doing pretty well also. EB's recommend using a sphagnum type mix rather than soil, due to it's wicking abilities. I used both, and I think the sphagnum was better.

I saw this picture somewhere on a govt site of someone growing strawberries in gutter-like hydros. They were able to grow them without needing any fungicide, which is the biggest commercial problem I think, fungus. And they got as good a harvest as any conventional method. I envisioned a sort of pergola type thing with strawberries growing overhead, but I never got it off the ground.

I actually grew very little in real in-the-ground soil this year -- some cucumbers, herbs and flowers. Next year I will have some raised beds, as well as my ebs. I don't know if I will do a hydro project or not.

How did yours do?

Pawling, NY(Zone 5b)

I haven't tried putting the strawberries in hydro system yet. I'm concerned about the strawberries getting soggy flavor to them with too much water. My regular soil strawberries already get a soggy flavor to them when there's too much water.. Do you use a special cultivar??

I love my lettuce in hyrdo system though.. They love water and grow super fast that way..

Orange Park, FL

I started this response quite a bit earlier, and then I was Skee-rood by a quickie power outage. And had to start all over again. Now I can't remember what I said earlier.
To answer your first question -- "what form of hydro are you using?", I gotta tell ya my hydro is the trial and error effort of several years. To outline it here would take more words than I have in me right now.
Your second question, "how did the strawberries do?". The photo might just give you an idea. The seedling plants I put in my hydro system 6 months ago have grown to multiple crown monsters. Every day I have to visit them just to pinch out the new runners that they are producing. But that is pretty much standard no matter where you are growing strawberries.
But let me give you a couple of answers to questions you have not even asked. -- No, I do not use those commercial rain gutter type sticks of coated aluminimum. Those 4"x4" open topped troughs do not provide adequate elbow space for the root systems of strawberry plants. Their open tops also encourage max evaporation that would burn up the roots of whatever is planted. And, NO, I do not use soil, or dirt, or some kind of potting mixture. My outdoor hydro system uses strictly perlite. Perlite is nothing more than a rock that has been ground up and popped like popcorn in a microwave. It is extraordinarily lite (4 cubic feet weighs less than 5 pounds). But it holds water like a sponge.
From what you tell me Raeben, it sounds like you are truly a successful experimenter. You are my kind of gardener. Go ahead and kick me in the butt for the specifics of my hydro project. I will be happy to tell you everything I have learned. God bless.

Thumbnail by blmlb
Orange Park, FL

You mention that you have been very successful growing lettuce in a hydo system. Your lettuce, as you say, is swamped with a constant liquied fertilizer. Good for you that you are enjoying a small crop that is so expensive in your local grocery store.
I would caution that other crops, like tomatos, beans, strawberries, etc, might not do all that well as hydro efforts. The problem is that most veggies need a bit of aeration. In other words, the roots of darn near everything (except for lettuce and friends) MUST have a bit of oxygen to tickle their roots. And strawberry plants are no exception.
For me to pass judgement on your soggy soil-borne plants 600-800 miles north of my front door would be the height of unwarranted, ill-conceived, and downright stupid advice. So I will just shut the heck up right this minute.
But BTW, check out the photo I posted in my earlier posting.

Pawling, NY(Zone 5b)

blmlb, how do you aerate your strawberries in your hydro system? I just had a ill timed series of rain storm when the berries were maturing.. But otherwise my berries are usually fine..

Great Falls, VA(Zone 6b)


Looks like you've got a system. I see a bucket in the background and it seems you've fashioned those trough-planters from maybe foam insulation sheet? And they are no doubt sloped to drain back into the bucket? Is that how you've done it? Please elaborate.

Do you hand water like once a day or do you have a pump going to recirculate the water continually or on a timer? Perlite seems like a good, readily available medium and it provides some air space. I think I could do this.

I researched hydro last spring but most of the books I found had good basic info but were outmoded and recommended constructing plywood boxes and there's this huge outlay of effort or money for something I wasn't sure would work well for me (not being of a mind to ph test things all the time) There is tons more info on the internet --
so I opted for grow box type system, eventually on a timer to refill once a day . And, then there's my aquarium pump container which is really hydro (no soil) just "volcanic rock".

Any good system will allow air in the mix. It's interesting that some plants can tolerate less air -- e.g. coleus and mints will root in water, but I was always told those were "water roots" and they would have to grow new "soil roots" when planted up. Maybe some plants are part fish and can get Oxygen from water, Hey I guess water plants do it (duh!).

BUT I digress -- did ya get any berries?

Orange Park, FL

I don't really do anything to aerate them. The thing is perlite holds moisture. So the roots don't need a constant supply of water. In fact, I have a small aquarium pump that is in that grey plastic trash can you can see in the back of the photo. The pump is hooked up to a 24 hour timer. The timer, BTW, has 48 different little pins. Each pin can be set to run the pump for 30 minutes.
So, my little pump only runs for 30 minutes once per day. The fertilized water is pumped up thru a drip irrigation setup. The water is fed into one end of the pipes you see. One end of the pipes is about 2" higher than the other end. The water filters thru the perlite. And perlite acts like a wick, so the entire root system from top to bottom actually gets moistened with that one 30 minute watering. The water that is not used by the plants drips out the lower end of the pipes where I catch it in a bucket and feed other plants in the garden. I have found that even during the hottest time of summer I can just set one pin to activate the pump at 8-9AM and another pin to activate at 3-4PM. The perlite never gets compressed, so there is always plenty of air between the granules.
The pump runs water thru a 1/2" hose to a drip irrigation 'splitter'. From there the water is sent thru 1/8" diameter drip lines to each pipe. Also, the splitter has little faucets so that I can adjust the amount of water that runs thru each drip line.
Virtually all of the components came from Home Depot. The pipes you see in the photo are actually 7' long plastic fence posts that are capped at each end. l spray painted the fence posts with a can of silver paint. That keeps the sunlight from encouraging algae growth inside the pipes.
The initial setup is pretty inexpensive except for the fence posts. But the whole thing will last forever. The only item I have had to replace has been the timer. It will last about 3-4 years. But it only costs $6-7 at HD.
It has been a hobby, but the most significant advantage I have found is that the pill bugs can't get to the berries. They love to eat ripe strawberries. And of course I don't have to bend over at ground level to pick the berries.
Oh, an earlier question you asked about the cultivar. Any variety will work. In the photo there are only 2 pipes. I am currently transplanting a different variety in the 2 pipes not pictured. Hope this is helpful.

Orange Park, FL

I was writing while you were posting. In a different setup I had a few years ago I made an effort to recover and re-use the water that dripped out the lower ends of the pipes I was using at the time. The problem with that idea was that over time you get 'salts' build-up in the reservoir. So I would have to drain and refill the reservoir every couple of months or so. It wasn't worth the time or effort.
With the adjustable drip line faucets I can get a pretty accurate amount of water into the pipes. Generally, I will recover no more than 1 cup of excess water from each pipe, which, as I mentioned, I just pour on other garden plants.
Another problem I had with my earlier trials was that I was using 8' long sticks of 4" thinwall pvc pipe. There just wasn't enough room for the roots. The current fence posts provide roughly twice as much root space as the pvc pipe.
Since the plants are getting watered every day, I use a very diluted liquid fertilizer in my trash can (water reservoir). The label on the fertilizer says to mix one capful for 2 gallons of water for use in the garden. For my reservoir I use one capful for every 10 gallons or so. I suspect there are a few micronutrients missing from my fert, but the plants don't seem to mind.
And, yes, I got more strawberries than I expected, since I started the current system last Feb-Mar with very young plants that had grown from runners the previous fall.

Pawling, NY(Zone 5b)

blmlb, if you're missing a new micronutrients, you can use Superthrive. One drop per gallon. And that's a micronutrient solution that you're suppose to add to your regular fertilizer..

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