Backyard Aquaponics

Best setup for vertical strawberries?
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Author:  DanW [ May 30th, '13, 13:55 ]
Post subject:  Best setup for vertical strawberries?

I'm wondering if anyone has advice for setting up a system to grow strawberries in the most space efficient manner

Two methods I have seen are NFT with 3 or 4" PVC running back and forth and towers made from PVC heated to create planting pockets

Any advice on which direction to pursue would be appreciated

Author:  Charlie [ May 31st, '13, 07:29 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

It really just comes down to available space and personal preference really. Neither way is better than the other.

Author:  Jarocal [ May 31st, '13, 10:03 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

Charlie wrote:
It really just comes down to available space and personal preference really. Neither way is better than the other.

Amount of energy you want to spend pumping it would also be a factor. Vertical towers require a pump capable of more head height which usually translates to more energy in moving the water.

Author:  tom77 [ Jun 5th, '13, 19:59 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

Hi Dan,

I have both in my setup, although I use the NFT (no media) for lettuce etc and the 10 PVC towers (expanded clay media) for strawberry plants. I have only had both for 3 or 4 months and the NFT works very well for the lettuce. The NFT is much quicker to make and cheaper. The melting of each pocket in the strawberry towers takes time and then to stop water leaking out the sides i have sleeves cut, glued and screwed to each pocket as well. Also each of my towers has an individual ball vale to control flow (25mm ball valves $8 each x 10 plus all the T's etc)... some people do just drill a hole in a pipe which sprays into each tower but I think you would need an overpowered pump to get even flow in each tower, and since you already need to pump to a high head height (which requires a larger pump and more power than to NFT) that would mean more electricity used.. Originally I hade one 6500 l/h pump feeding the 3 IBC grow beds, NFT and 10 strawberry towers but ended up adding a 3500 l/h pump to just the towers because of the difficulty of balancing enough flow to the towers.. I just bought a cheap timer though and will run the towers 15 on 15 off as I have read that strawberries do better if they are not constantly wet.. we'll see.
My reason for trying towers was because I am extremely limited by space... if you have more space then maybe a combination of both would work... imagine NFT tubes on a 45 degree angle and filled with expanded clay...also the bigger the diameter PVC the better... I used 100 mm telecommunications conduit that I got for free (it is stronger too) I could imagine the roots of strawberry plants really blocking up 90mm quickly..

Author:  DanW [ Jun 7th, '13, 02:57 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

Thanks a lot for the replies

I found this guys setup recently and seems excellent. He's marketing it as "Zipgrow"
Its too costly for me but I'd like to borrow the idea and make my own

Author:  tom77 [ Jun 7th, '13, 07:39 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

DanW wrote:
Thanks a lot for the replies

I found this guys setup recently and seems excellent. He's marketing it as "Zipgrow"
Its too costly for me but I'd like to borrow the idea and make my own

Yeah a few of the members on this forum have those.. including TCLynx I believe. It looks like it is a great system, although I wonder how the foamy stuff in the towers handles particle build up. The water should be quite clean that feeds the zipgrow towers if its coming from a sump or filtered, but if not I could see that foam clogging at the tops.. although I could be wrong :laughing3:
A lot easier to plant in those zipgrow towers too.. I have had difficulties getting my strawberry runners into the expanded clay and the clay falling out when stuffing around with the plants :upset:
but my piping was free so I think my DIY came in a lot cheaper than those very nice looking zipgrow towers

Author:  guitard00d [ Nov 11th, '13, 02:21 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

If ZipGrow towers are cost-prohibitive for you, it's not too hard to make a functional clone (note: I didn't say physical clone). All it takes is 38" length of 4" PVC drain pipe with a 3/4" slot cut down one side (preferably in the area where the manufacturer's printing appears), two 4" PVC end caps, one 1-1/2" PVC end cap, a 3/4" PVC elbow with threads on one end and a slip fitting on the other, and two strips of Matala brand low-density black pond filter media cut to 36"x2-3/4" (it already comes in 1-1/2" thick sheets).

If you want to make a more physical clone, then simply use a 4"x4" vinyl fence post sleeve. They're a little more expensive than 4" drain pipe and only available in 8' lengths. So, I'm guessing you can now figure out why ZipGrow towers are only sold in 5' and 3' lengths.

Assembly is painfully simple. Each 4" PVC end cap gets a 7/8" hole drilled in the center (best to use a drill-press and a spade bit at slow speed). One of the caps gets a 1-1/2" PVC cap glued in the center of it which has multiple 1/8" holes drilled in it to create a shower head. This is your top cap and your water/nutrient feed goes in the 7/8" hole in that cap...With the other cap, heat up the hole with a heat gun or torch to make it pliable and then thread in your 3/4" PVC elbow, let it sit and cool back to its solid state. Remove the elbow, apply PVC primer and cement to the threads in the cap and elbow, then put them back together to set up.

Planting the tower with plugs or strawberry root-stock is really simple and doesn't require any kind of wicking strip, simply sandwich the plugs or root-stock between the two strips of Matala pond filter media and slide them into the PVC drain pipe with your plant tops extending out through the slot. Put your end caps on and you're ready to hang it. If you have any reusable zip-ties (such as the ones use on home dryer exhaust hoses) you may want to strap one around the middle of the planter just to keep the slot the same width from top to bottom. The top cap is held on by two cup hooks threaded through the cap and the drain pipe, but could also be held on by drilling larger holes and using the S-Hooks on 1 foot long bungie cords. The tower simple sits in the bottom cap since it's actually held in place by my drain line plumbing.

Total cost for all parts in one planter is less than $10 US. The water/nutrient trickles down through the Matala pond filter media totally even and symmetrical. The filter media is specifically designed to create a great deal of biological surface area and has plenty of void space. As for the question of "food-safe plastic" in this DIY planter, all I have to say on that point is that I have yet to see any aquarium/pond pumps, poly water/drip line, etc - sporting food-safe advertisements. As an engineer friend told me one time, there is no such thing as food-safe plastics, not even in the bottle that your oh-so-healthy bottled water or plastic jug that your milk comes in - the harder the plastic, the "safer" it is, but there is no such thing as a 100% food-safe plastic.

I only posted this for the benefit of those people who want something that works equally as well as the patent-pending ZipGrow towers (filed by the University of Wyoming for the application, not the actual device) but can't justify the $50 to $70 price tag. I do not sell these planters, so I am by no means infringing on the patent pending. Use this information as you see fit and feel free to expand upon it or improve it (A'la Open Source).

File comment: Assembled Tower (Bottom End)
Tower3-800x600.jpg [ 553.61 KiB | Viewed 15410 times ]
File comment: Assembled Tower (Top End)
Tower2-800x600.jpg [ 570.05 KiB | Viewed 15410 times ]
File comment: Tower Parts
Tower1-800x600.jpg [ 479.89 KiB | Viewed 15410 times ]

Author:  guitard00d [ Nov 17th, '13, 00:50 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

Here's the tower a coupe days after being planted with starter plugs. The plug is just deep enough into the Matala filter media to get a steady supply of water/nutrient and the top of the plug rests all the way up against the slot in the planter. As you can see, even though the plugs are inserted horizontally, the plants automatically correct themselves in a few hours and bend towards the light source. So, while it might not be as pretty as an actual ZipGrow tower, it is easily just as effective and functional.

Tower4-800x600.jpg [ 313.56 KiB | Viewed 15377 times ]

Author:  Slowboat [ Nov 17th, '13, 18:22 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

neat Guitardood. good work.

I think they have worms in the zip towers to eat solids etc.

Author:  Aufin [ Nov 18th, '13, 00:10 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

I did pretty much the same, but used rain gutter downspout tubes, instead. Saw a Z-T add and thought .... hmmm, couldn't be that hard to make my own version to fit where I wanted. Don't know whether my media is "matala" type or not. Just wandered around Home Deopt till I saw some cut-yourself-to-fit air filter material. Seemed pretty open and airy, durable enough to handle the plants, and able to handle being constantly damp without turning to mush. Whether it's "food grade" or not wasn't that much of an issue for me. Thought that since it is intended for air filtering it wouldn't be something I needed to be too concerned about. I cut strips to fit, rinsed them off and drug them into the tubes, which I had run across my table saw and put a 3/8" groove down the middle, and thought: we'll see what happens. Have no idea as to what my final cost is since the tubes were leftovers from another project ...... I just know they're way less costly than what Z-T is asking. The downspout tubes do seem a bit more flimsy than what I would expect fence posts to be, and much thinner-walled than 4" pipe, but that didn't matter to me, either since I wouldn't be monkeying around with them. I hung them over my F/D GB's because I didn't want to engineer more paths for drainage and add more pipes to avoid and possibly stumble over. The only "routing" I did was put a 45 degree bottom piece on the tubes so they wouldn't spread out too much ...... and look a little more "finished". They don't have the finished appearance of store-bought, but since my backyard system is a hodge-podge of three different systems that only I look at, who cares as long as they get the job done? They've been up a few weeks, now with some experimental plants in them and everything seems to be doing OK.

A little DIY tip. If you intend to make your own and are using a tablesaw to cut the planting strip, use a fine toothed finish-cut blade with the blade height adjusted to barely above the material to be cut ...... and cut sloooow. I found that moving "backwards" across the blade worked even better. The saw grabbing the tube and shooting it into your belly does hurt ...... and scare the crap outta you.

Author:  BenBrewcat [ Nov 18th, '13, 00:35 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

That's a beauty setup guitard00d! Nice build. I've wondered with the ZT's or your DIY medium: can the medium be reused and how do you get the root balls out?

Author:  guitard00d [ Nov 18th, '13, 02:27 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

The Matala media (see is designed to be easily cleaned and doesn't contain anything weird in it to inhibit bacteria growth. It's actually quite the opposite, it is very much designed to create a big home for bacteria.

I've found that their black (low density) and green (medium density) media works best and both will easily host redworms. However, the green media is a little more difficult to get root balls out of. The black media has so much void space that root balls come out with pretty much zero effort.

As for my reason of using a tube rather than a square body...Once you get your media in the tube, you can use any type of a "rib spreader" type of tool to open up the slot to drop a starter plug into, and the body pulls itself right back into perfectly round shape. I didn't have that kind of luck with any square tower bodies that I tried. It's a lot easier to just spread out the plant slot and add plants than it is to always have to pull the whole media out in order to plant it.

Author:  BenBrewcat [ Nov 18th, '13, 03:34 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

So after harvesting can you just gently pull and untangle the rootball from the medium and re-use?

Author:  guitard00d [ Nov 18th, '13, 03:41 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

Yes, and even if some small roots are left behind, they decompose and the redworms eat them up anyway. Even if you don't have redworms, they'll eventually end up back in your water and the fish will eat them. I will say, this media doesn't clog up and wear out like ZipGrow media, it's extremely sturdy and nearly impossible to damage.

Author:  BenBrewcat [ Nov 18th, '13, 09:06 ]
Post subject:  Re: Best setup for vertical strawberries?

Thanks guitard00d. These towers might be just the thing for moving between outdoors in summer and indoors for winter!

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