It is no secret that strawberries are one of the easiest and healthiest foods you can grow in your backyard. The strawberry, a member of the rose family, is the second most popular fruit in the U.S. It is very low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and a great source of vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and dietary fiber. In short,
the strawberry should be part of a healthy diet.
Strawberries are the as a topping on cereal, baked in cakes, made into smoothies or, better yet, made into jam, preserves or jelly. They also freeze well. You can purchase them at your local supermarket where they may have been grown using who knows what in the way of chemicals, or you can build a garden box in your backyard and grow your own berries.
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Over the years, I have seen strawberries grown in all types of beds, including those made from recycled railroad crossties, concrete blocks, wheel rims, auto tires cut in half, old galvanized metal tubs and other materials. While these unusual beds may grow strawberries, many of the containers may be unsafe or unattractive to use. I once visited a farm that grew strawberries in a plastic container that was clearly marked as one that had once held DDT. Several times I have seen strawberries in beds made from old railroad crossties that oozed creosote on hot days.
It is easy and inexpensive to build a three-tiered strawberry box made from safe materials that will give you a good supply of fresh strawberries during the summer. The following de- sign takes up little space and doesn’t require a lot of time or skill to build.
The three-tiered strawberry bed is made from 2-by 6-inch treated boards. The most attractive and practical size bed I have made had a 60-by-60- inch base box and took up little room in the yard. Upon the base box is a second box that measures 43 by 43 inches, and the third box measures 30 by 30 inches. The second box is turned 45 degrees to the first box, giving the bed a pleasing geometrical look. The third box is placed on the second box, parallel to the first box.
Using a little simple math, you can change the dimensions to meet your needs. To get the right size bedding areas for my site on each tier, I found that the ground tier needed to be 60 by 60 inches. This required the second tier to be 43 inches to avoid an overhang in open space and have a top tier of 30 inches. It was just a matter of proportions based on desired planting areas. For me, this size worked out best for the number of strawberry plants I wanted to grow.
Purchase three 10-foot treated 2x6s and two 8-foot treated 2×6 boards. Using a circular saw, cut two of the 10-foot boards into 60-inch lengths for the first tier box. Next, cut the four 43-inch boards from the two 8-foot-long boards for the second tier box. Finally, cut the four 30-inch-long boards from the third 10-foot-long board for the third tier box. All cuts are 90 de- gree cuts and are simple to cut with a circular saw when the boards are held securely on a work table.
Before you begin to build the three boxes, select a well-drained, level area in your yard where you know the strawberries will get full sun most of the day. Using a spade, level the site and clear out all grass from a 60-by- 60-inch area. Now you are ready to build the boxes.
Putting It Together
Using the four 60-inch boards, assemble the 5-foot bed first, drilling pilot holes where the boards overlap and using three 3-inch deck screws to attach the boards to one another. Use a framing square to make sure the sides are square. When attaching the sides, check that they are level with a long carpenter’s level.
Follow the same procedure for the 43-inch box and the 30-inch box. Once all three tiers are correctly assem- bled, take the boxes to the bed site.
Place the first box, 60 by 60 inches, on the prepped site and, using the long carpenter’s level, be sure the box is level in all directions. Next, lay down the landscape cloth tightly in the bottom of the box. Attach the cloth to the ground with landscape pins. Now you are ready to fill the first box with dirt.
Using a mixture of garden soil and manure compost, fill the first box to the top. (Your local Coopera- tive Extension Service agent can give you exact soil mixture suggestions for your specific area.) Now lay the second box, 43 by 43 inches, on top of the first box at a 45-degree angle. (See the diagram.) The edges of the second tier box should overlap the center of the sides of the first tier box.
At this overlap, drill a pilot hole through the second box corner and into the center of the first box side. Now, using a drill/driver and a bit, screw in a 10-inch timber wood screw through the pilot hole. Do this at each of the four corners. This will keep the bed from being knocked over. Fill the second box with the soil mixture.
Finally, sit the third box on the second so that its sides are parallel to the first box. Screw it in place using the timber screws and fill with the soil mixture. Smooth out the soil in all areas and you have a strawberry box that is ready for anywhere from 12 to 40 strawberry plants, depending upon the variety you choose to plant.
This box will give you years of service, and you and your family will enjoy eating the fruit of your labor.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.