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Published: Wednesday, 6/23/2010

Towers of berries grow in Michigan


Strawberries can be grown vertically. Strawberries can be grown vertically.
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Are you shin-deep in strawberry plants, trying to get the freshest berries for a favorite jelly and shortcake? Me too!

But that "strawberry stance" of bending over, elbows on your knees, while picking strawberries can take its toll on your back. Many of us have given up skipping through the strawberry patch, opting for the ones that have already been picked by some other willing soul.

I'll bet you would keep picking strawberries if you could do it standing up, leisurely plucking red berries without any of the usual challenges.

Standing berries

I was on my way to a family graduation party in Coldwater, Mich., when on U.S.12 I came across a farm that is growing strawberries vertically, not in the typical low-growing strawberry patches. Rick and Jan Poindexter, owners of Sugar Bush Farms in Allen, Mich., have found a way to grow them up, instead of out.

"My dad was an avid gardener in Grosse Isle," says Strawberry grower Jan Poindexter. "He was doing some research and found this technology, and we decided to try it."

First, the ground is leveled and covered with landscape cloth to prevent weeds and keep the ground most. An irrigation system links each tower to keep them watered and fed along the top. Each tower is reinforced with an aluminum pipe that goes from the irrigation line at the top and to the ground for each free-standing garden.

The Poindexters have set up a series of rows with a PVC base around the pipe that sits on a block of wood to keep it sturdy. The strawberries are grown in a tall stack of pots similar to a strawberry pot you might use to grow the fruit on your deck.

Each pot has five protruding planting cups on the sides to hold a single plant. Then they are stacked on top of each other, alternating the openings so they are staggered to make it easy to pick the berries.

Easy pickins'

Rick Poindexter says they planted 80 poles last year and have expanded to 1,100 this year.

"We can get an acre of strawberry plants into one-quarter acre of space this way. We are also growing green beans, sugar peas, and cherry tomatoes in the grow towers."

He says the initial investment is steep, but they hope to start turning a profit on the system.

"This system cuts down dramatically on pests and disease with the plants. We find the fruit quality is better when we grow strawberries in these towers," says Mr. Poindexter.

My daughter and I had a lot of fun picking strawberries in this towering berry patch.All of the plants are within arm's length, the rows were very neat, and the berries were plentiful.

But just to stay in shape, I'm sure I will still have to visit my favorite traditional berry patches.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at:

kheidbreder@theblade.com.



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