A strawberry patch is great, but a couple problems crop up:
- Strawberry plants don’t stay in tidy rows. They multiply by runners, till soon you have a tangle. This makes it hard to walk without stepping on the plants — and the berries.
- The berries tend to rest on the ground where they are prone to dirt, rot, and slugs.
- Weeds come in between the strawberry plants. They crowd the strawberries and compete for moisture. If the weeds grow tall, they shade the strawberry plants, and cut their production.
Growing strawberry plants in the cracks between bricks solves these problems, and more.
One key idea of growing strawberries, which I did not know at first, is this: Strawberry plants get old. Say a new plant gets started from a runner. The following year, that plant will bear the most flowers and fruit it will ever have. After that, it will decline. So, for sustainable strawberries, you need to have new plants coming each year, replacing the old.
There are various ways to do this:
- You can do like commercial strawberry growers: Plow up the whole field each year, nix all the old plants, and re-plant with newly bought starts.
- Do like they did on my grandma’s farm: Move the strawberry bed every couple years. The family had a general notion a strawberry patch would “run out” after a few years. This was simply the site getting too thick with weeds and unproductive old plants, leaving little space for the new. The answer was to just dig up some of the plants and put them in new ground. This works well if you have a family farm, and kids for the chores.
- Do like we did at my mom’s yard in Alabama. There was lawn to mow, and we would dump piles of grass clippings on the strawberry patch. This would smother and kill the plants direct hit. But, in that heat, the grass piles would soon molder into the ground. New runners would colonize the bare spots, so there were always young productive plants. This works well in a hot climate, where you have extensive lawn to mow.
- Roto-till your intended strawberry plot, and set a stripe of plants along one edge. Next year, roto-till those; but by now they will have spawned a population of progeny a few feet out beside them, from runners. This year, those will be your productive plants. Keep “chasing” the strawberries back and forth across the ground. This works well where you have fine soil you can easily roto-till — and of course a roto-tilller.
- Grow strawberries in a strawberry jar. Each year, clear out the plants from half the holes. Then train a runner from one of the remaining plants so it starts a new individual in the vacated hole.
With all these in mind, I came up with the brick method. I’d had an old chimney removed, for earthquake safety, It was no longer serving any purpose now that I had a new high-efficiency furnace. So, I had lots of bricks.
I laid the bricks out on the ground with finger-width spaces between. I just put them in rows,, but I could have done herringbone, or anything. I planted a few strawberry plants in between.
This was a part of the garden that used to be muddy all winter. To go through there, I needed boards, for catwalks. Even these would gradually squish into the ground. Now, the brickwork provided an easy walking surface. No more mud.
In due season, the strawberry plants had berries. It was easy to step around among them, on the bricks. The fruit, for the most part, rested on the bricks, keeping up out of the dirt.
This same winter-muddy area would get very dry in summer. Now, the bricks acted like rock mulch, and held in more of the soil moisture.
In their usual way, the strawberry plants sent out runners. These would tend to nestle into the spaces between the bricks, and start new plants there. Sometimes I would help them a bit, nudge them where I wanted them to go. But for the most part, the strawberries took care of themselves.
There were not many weeds because, well, 90% or more of the surface was brick. About the only thing that will grow on bricks is moss.
This has been going on about eight years now. The old plants seem to die off naturally on their own. When a strawberry plants lives into its third, fourth year and beyond, it lays over on the ground and forms a short, creeping stem that roots from the new part, while the old part gets ratty. This can happen on flat ground. However, in my brick bed, the old plants try to “climb out” of their crack, and lose contact with the soil. Then, they naturally dry up, and make room for the new ones.
My brick bed is June-bearing strawberries. These produce a single crop, in spring and early summer. Then, no more berries till next year. This means I seldom have to water the bed. The winter and spring moisture, from the rain, brings in the crop. Then, the area dries out, too dry to get good berries, but the plants are not trying to make berries anyway, so it does not matter. It’s still not as dry as it used to get, before the bricks. The plants tough it out on the residual moisture until the rains come back in the fall.
A brick bed like this would have a lot of the same advantages for ever-bearing strawberries, but you would need to water them through the summer to keep on getting berries. Too dry would mean small, deformed berries, or none at all.