Build Your Own Strawberry Tower

We love strawberries. LOVE. On average, we eat about 2 pounds of them a week, between fresh and frozen berries. My son loves strawberry shakes (bananas, frozen strawberries with some water to blend with), and he likes to eat them plain fresh or frozen. I’ve had strawberries in the ground for about three years now, but my garden (aka my available land area) doesn’t have the space to grow a significant amount of berries (and by significant, I mean we’ve never had more than 3 or 4 ripe berries at a time).

But I came across this blog post from 100 Dollars a Month (my favorite new gardening blog) showing off someone’s strawberry tower, and I knew that I had to try this out. 

I went online to Gurneys (I tried a few other places first, but they were sold out of strawberry plants at the late date), and ordered 100 everbearing strawberry plants. They arrived during my no-buy week, so instead of going out immediately and purchasing cedar wood to build my new strawberry tower with, I used some 1 x 6 pine that I had on hand.

The first tower I built on Sunday was 6 feet tall, but I had leftover plants, so I decided to build another one, and today (Thursday) was when I got around to doing it. 

You’ll need:

4 boards, cedar fence boards are cheap and should last longer than the pine that I used

2 2×3 or 2×4 scraps (about 18 inches long) to use as support legs

landscaping fabric to cover the bottom-you could use a board with holes in it too, but I had the fabric, so it seemed simplier to just use that

Drill bit (spade, forstner, hole saw) measuring about an inch and a half for the holes

Drill to drill holes and screw it all together

Screws, preferably exterior screws, though I didn’t have any so I just used drywall screws

1. Cut your boards to the length that you want your tower to be high. My first tower was 6 feet tall. The second one was only four feet tall, because I only had about 30 plants left. 

2. Drill the holes in three sides. I staggered them about 4 inches apart (though I didn’t do any measuring). And leave eight inches or so at the bottom, so your plants aren’t growing on the ground. I left one side without holes, because that side would probably not get much sun as I plan to keep these near the house to save them from the deer.


4. Screw the boards together into a box shape. Pre-drill your holes so your wood doesn’t split. I put screws in every 18 inches or so.

5. Once you have the box done, spread the landscaping fabric over the bottom and either staple it onto the wood, or use the support legs to hold it on when you screw them on.


6. Screw the 2 by’s on two sides so they are even with the bottom of the box to keep it from tipping over.

Now you are done the box, and you need to fill it with some sort of growing medium. And of course plant your strawberries in it. 


For my first tower, I filled the whole thing up and then added the plants. I also didn’t pack down the soil as I went, so there were some air pockets in the bottom half that I had to fill by trying to squish soil in through the holes. I don’t recommend this.

The second time, I put the plants in as the soil got up to the holes, and then gently tamped the soil down as I went. 

For my growing medium, I used straight compost. The six foot tower took about 8 gallons of compost (measured by filling up my five gallon bucket there). The four footer took only slightly more than one bucket. If I didn’t have large quantities of compost available from my compost bins, I probably would have gone with potting soil. 

I’ll keep you updated on the strawberries growing progress. So far in four days, the plants are already leafing out nicely. 

If you search the web, there is also a strawberry tower that is made of a PVC sewer pipe with holes drilled in it, if you aren’t a woodworker, that will be easier for you. In that case, you should definitely get a hole saw drill bit for the holes. 


Let me know what you think and definitely let me know if you have ever tried this before. 


Halfway Through the Buy Nothing Week

This is WAY harder than I thought it was going to be. I think of a dozen things a day that I just HAVE to go out and buy. 

Mostly it’s food. Oh there’s still plenty of food in the house, but I want more. Plus we ran out of bananas, so yeah, that’s depressing. I’d have made a lousy homesteader. Practically all Laura Ingalls ate during the winter on the Prairie was game meat, corn mush, and bread. 

But it’s also plants, given the time of year. I want to buy flowers for my hanging flower baskets on the porch. Pepper plants and more tomatoes need to go in the vegetable garden. And how about some more blueberry bushes to replace the ones that died over this harsh winter? Oh and roses! My roses died too, so I need to replace them. RIGHT NOW!

And envelopes, I’m getting low on mailers. 

And I really want to go to the flea market and yard sales on Saturday to buy anything I see that I might need/want. 

So, buy nothing week is torture. But it’s rather instructive.

I cleaned out my freezer on Monday of everything that is too old to eat, and it was a lot of food. I was surprised, because I tend to pat myself on the back for not being a food waster. If I buy lettuce or kale, I eat it. I don’t leave fruits and vegetables languishing in the  produce drawers. But apparently I did get over enthusiastic on green beans last summer (though to be fair, they were free), and I haven’t used up all the bags of tomatoes I froze. And what’s the point of freezing that dish that wasn’t very good in the first place? If I didn’t like it then, freezing is unlikely to improve the flavor.

But it’s also instructive on how often I want to buy things. I live in town, so it’s so easy to go out buy thngs every single day of the week. And I might go to the store to get bananas, which are an absolute necessity, but I’ll also get five other things which aren’t. And I may stop at the hardware store for pansies and come home with $20 worth of things that I hadn’t planned on buying. 

And of course there is the internet which makes buying just about anything easy as pie. I don’t even have to convince my son to leave the house. 

This week has made me think, and I’m thinking of trying out some buying guidelines for the future-more on that at the end of the week. 

I really want to quit buy nothing week, but I’m trying to build self trust, like Tynan talks about in his latest blog post, which is a must read. So go read it.



Sticking To It

Yesterday, I took Caleb to track, and rather than getting out for my run right away, I sat in the car and watch Netflix on my phone. I was feeling lazy, and it was kind of cool outside. I just didn’t FEEL like going running. But track practice is 2 hours long, so after 50 minutes, I said, “Cheryl, if you spend 2 hours staring at your phone and don’t at least try to go running, you are going to hate yourself when practice is over.” So I got out of the car, and started running.

At first it was slow and painful. With every step, I thought, I (pant) am (pant) so (pant) fat (puff). Lifting up each leg seemed like such a trial. I felt clumsy and flabby, and wished it would just rain already so I could quit. But then, I thought, what if I really was overweight? What if I had an extra 50 or 100 pounds to carry around? If I was running with all that extra weight, that would be heroic. THAT would be a challenge. That would be much more interesting and inspiring than wanting to look like a svelte Kenyan on the trails, or my 19 year old self on the beach this year (a lot less vain too). 

And somehow imagining that snapped me out of my bad running mood, and I relaxed after that, and started thinking of other things besides how much I’d rather be sitting down watching TV. 

I play these games with myself to keep myself going all the time. Sometimes I pretend I’m trying to come back to the WNBA after an injury and my coach is pushing me hard (think Rocky). Sometimes I pretend I’m racing other people on the treadmill and try not to stop or walk before they do. I imagine I’m giving lectures on the benefits of aerobic exercise and running, trying to inspire people strengthen their bodies and minds. 

I’ve always hated running. I liked to play basketball for exercise. I would play for hours. Sadly that is no longer a part of my life, so I have set my mind to enjoy running, and usually I’m successful, but sometimes it takes mental games to put me in the right frame of mind. It helps me ennoble the run.

Yesterday I gritted my teeth through the first mile, and then I found my rhythm. I was still slow (as always), but I flowed. It was a perfect running evening: 70 degrees, cool breeze, humid air. It couldn’t have been more lovely. I did a good 4 miles in a cemetery next to the track and on trails like this:



it’s my favorite place to run in the world, and I’m so glad I stuck to it.

Local Food Summer

Last year, I did a local food month in August, and it went really well. I’m extending for the whole summer this year: June through September. Our farmer’s markets start in June, and my garden will be coming in strong by then. If it’s going well, I may extend it to October.


My Rules:

1. All produce must come from my garden or a farmer in our area.

2. Grains and beans can come from the grocery store unless I can find a local source (as yet unfound).

3. Dairy and eggs must be local, though I use animal products extremely sparingly.

4. Nuts can be bought at the store, if local ones are not available.

5. Bananas are like coffee for me–non-negotiable.

6. Added sugar will be provided by local maple syrup, maple sugar, and honey.

7. Baking soda, powder, salt, yeast, etc. are allowed.

8. Special dispensation will be made for my son particularly if it gets him to eat more vegetables that may not be available locally.

9. Only one factory prepared food per week (crackers, chips, salsas, pastas, etc.).

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Basically I want to be purchasing all my produce locally (except bananas), and I want to severely limit processed food.

I doubt I’ll be able to keep it up during my vacation weeks when I’m away from home, but I’ll do my best.

The local food summer isn’t about doing it perfectly, nor is it about being “holier than thou,” for me it’s about expanding my palette and eating tastier food. And of course supporting small farmers. 🙂

Buy Nothing Week

Starting today, I’m having a buy nothing week. Mostly I’m doing this to use up my freezer food. Pretty soon, I’ll be adding fresh garden produce to my freezer, and I need to make sure I use up what I have leftover from last year. My freezer has tons of food in it that I don’t always think of when I’m meal planning.

It could use a defrost and a little organizing too, I know.

It could use a defrost and a little organizing too, I know.

It’s also a good time to do it, because I’ll still have fresh greens from my garden. So I’ll be skipping my weekly grocery shopping and relying on the freezer and the pantry. I won’t shop online or at Goodwill. I have enough gas to last the week, probably (a tank usually lasts me about 3-4 weeks if I don’t go to Pittsburgh), but if I don’t, I’ll have to stay home or walk downtown if I want to go out.

I also won’t be buying any new supplies for my business. I’m pretty well stocked, so I don’t think that will be an issue at all. The only thing I will be buying is postal labels, but technically the customer is buying them with their shipping fees.

We’ll see if I can make it. I’m rather addicted to going grocery shopping and wood shopping. If I make it one week and still have an overloaded freezer, I’m going to extend it for another week at least for food, though I might buy some more fruit then. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Consistency in May–Don’t Give Up


Being consistent isn’t about being perfect. Many times I’ll try to establish a new habit, and I will miss a couple days, and just give up. For some reason I get it in my head that I’m too far behind and I might as well just quit. Too far behind what?? 

If you miss a day or two or a week, you can always pick it back up today. Don’t let it go one more day. Or even one more hour. If you didn’t do your morning routine, do it now. If you skipped your crunches for the past week, do them now. Don’t give up, 

Consistency is doing the same things over and over again. One of those things is starting over again and again and again. You will lapse when you are trying to add something new to your routine. But being consistent is not giving up after you miss a couple days. 

Don’t think about how much that run will hurt since you haven’t run in a week (or a month), think about how you’ll feel after the run. Think about how you’ll feel in a month after running five times a week. Think about how you would feel in a month if you gave up now–you’d be in worse shape, disappointed in yourself, and possibly a little fatter. 

Imagine the satisfaction you will have if you get back to your housecleaning routines: the clear surfaces, the clean floors, the drawers stocked with clean clothes all the time. Think about how annoying it is not to have your favorite clothes, because they are dirty. 

Think about the future. Will you be happier then if you quit? 

No TV Summer


Soon we will start our second annual no-TV summer. This means no videos on the computer, no Angry Birds (except at all day craft shows), and no Gameboy games (we don’t actually have a television). Once a week, on Wednesday/Pizza Day, we will watch a BBC wildlife video as usual, but other than that, no videos.

We started this last summer, and it was a wonderful success. Last year we started on the summer solstice, and planned to end on the equinox, but as we got into September, and all my son’s friends went back to school, he quit. This year, we’re going to start the first of June, and end the beginning of September.

If we can make it through the whole summer, we’re going to take a trip to New York City to see the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty and Central Park and the Zoo and probably go to a Yankees game.

Although we didn’t do any videos the first three years of his life, somehow I slipped up and opened the floodgates, and I don’t have the heart to take them away permanently again. BUT I think having an extended period to detox from the passive effects of video watching is very helpful.

The summer is the perfect time. Other kids are off from school so there are more people to play with during the day. The weather is lovely. There is gardening and beach trips and park outings, the creek, the pool, and the lake. Really there are too many fun things to do in the summer to waste time on television.

The one day a week that we can watch offers a pressure release, so it isn’t as though we can’t watch anything for THREE MONTHS! (gasp)

Talk to your kids, think about it, and maybe you can have a no-TV summer too. I’ll be posting updates throughout the summer, along with things to do instead of TV.

Mating Frogs

Mating Frogs


Frog Eggs Coming out of a mating frog

Frog Eggs Coming out of a mating frog

How to Be Consistent

A reader commented on my Consistency post asking if I had any suggestions for becoming more consistent. I do, although I can’t say I always follow my own advice.

1. First and foremost, like I said in the original post, there are no secrets. You just have to do it. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. That has actually become my mantra. Any time I start wondering if I want to or feel like doing ______, I tell myself to stop thinking and get busy DOING.

2. Make time. The petty things of life (especially when you are a mother) can and will take up every single spare second if you let them. You need to MAKE time. If you are trying to make time in the afternoons or evenings for working out, and you keep running out of time, try the morning. If you can’t get yourself going in the morning for a run or you have other things to do then, try the afternoons (my preferred time for a workout) or evenings.

3. Remove your options. This goes back to “You just have to do it.” Something I have been most consistent in is eating three healthy meals every day. I did this by removing my options. Almost every single day, I eat a (usually green) smoothie for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and for dinner I plan meals based on the days of the week (every Friday I make Mexican food, every Thursday is stir fry or curry with rice, etc.). My salads have all different things on them-beans, veggies, fruit, so it’s not like I’m eating the same thing every day, but it always takes the form of something on top of raw greens.

4. Have a backup plan. When I run out of greens or for some other reason can’t have a salad, I have a backup plan. Either I have leftover soup or if I’m running out the door for something, I make a smoothie to take with me. What will you do if you have somewhere to be in the afternoon and can’t make your run? Can you use your exercise bike or mini trampoline while dinner is cooking? Will you run first thing in the morning? Can you jump rope instead? You need a placeholder for your habit so it doesn’t slip away from you on days when it’s not possible to complete your routine.

5. Be prepared. Repack your gym bag as soon as you get home from the gym. Prep your work area so you are ready to go in the morning. Have your socks and shoes and workout clothes clean and available. Keep your fridge stocked with fruits and vegetables (and your pantry empty of chips, crackers, and sweets).

What are your tips for being consistent?

Fruit and Vegetable Challenge, take two

Last year, during Lent, I challenged my son to eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables every day. It was wonderfully successful. I saw visible improvements to his health (which had been of the sniffy nose variety for weeks), and even after we stopped, he continued to make healthier choices.

But as the year has come and gone, his diet has been gravitating back to the starches with fewer fresh foods, so I decided to make a new challenge. If he eats 2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables every day of the week, on Sunday we will have a sweet breakfast.

Our favorite sweet breakfast include sticky buns (made with whole wheat flour and maple syrup), coffee cake (I use whole wheat again and leave the sugar out of the bread part and just use it for the topping. I also use a different topping recipe because the one with the vegan coffee cake recipe that I linked to isn’t very good), donuts (whole wheat, sweetened with maple syrup), raspberry whole wheat sweet rolls (I just use my regular bread recipe with a cream cheese icing), and that’s about all I can think of at the moment. 

Our Sunday sweet breakfast include real food that must be eaten before the junk food, and I try to make my versions of these as healthy as possible. 

My main reason for doing these challenges is to obvious get him to eat healthier, but it’s also to change his food preferences. What we eat is largely a matter of habit. If we can trick ourselves into changes our habits, our food preferences will change. We will come to enjoy our new foods.

That is also the reason why I never buy white bread or bake with white flour. People that are raised on white bread (or white rice) end up preferring these bland, fluffy counterparts of the real food. My mother always gave us whole grains and baked whole wheat muffins. My dad made whole grain pancakes with seeds and a variety of flours, and all of us loved them.

White bread and white sugar foods will always be appealing to our tastes, no matter what we are raised on. But if you raise a kid on whole foods, they will keep a taste for them their whole lives, regardless of how they change their diet when they are grown. 

So, who wants to join the challenge? How many fruits and vegetables do your kids eat on a daily basis? How many fruits and vegetables do YOU eat on a daily basis? Odds are both could be improved. It’s getting into farmer’s market season. We’ll get our first CSA box next week courtesy of Amish farmers plowing with draft horses (how cool is that?). 

Pizza Day Links

On Wednesday night, we order pizza for dinner, because a medium pizza is only four dollars, and because it’s nice to have a night off-almost no dishes, no cooking, just drive a mile up the hill and pick up the pizza. Since I make practically everything else from scratch, I look forward to one day a week where the menu is set and guaranteed to please my son.

My blog post today is going to be like that–let someone else do the work.

So my favorite links of the past couple of weeks are….

Tynan had an eye opening post a couple of days ago about the difference between happiness and pleasure. For instance, it may give you pleasure to watch TV for until one in the morning, but it sure isn’t going to make you happy. Read it, you’ll be glad you did. I keep saying to myself, “I’m I going to be happy about this decision at the end of the day (or tomorrow morning!).”

Mike Lanza has a book and a website called Playborhood. I found it when I was searching for information about parent-run day camps, but I found so much more than that. He has a wealth of ideas about creating a thriving neighborhood play scene. I really liked that he acknowledges that getting your kids away from a screen and outdoors is more complicated than saying, “Go outside and play.” He calls it a social problem. After all, if there aren’t any other kids outside, your kid is going to be inside pretty soon. Check out the blog and the book, they are well-worth your time.

Leo at Zen Habits had a post a while back titled “What if You Didn’t Have to Worry about Yourself?” that really struck me.

Peter Gray at Freedom to Learn on Psychology Today wrote an article close to my heart about Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It.

I also read a great book from my library called, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. It’s about play from a biological standpoint, and Dr. Stuart Brown makes a strong case that play is a necessity, and that children and adults need more of it in their lives. I really liked that he didn’t focus just on children, but showed the ways that play still benefits grown humans as well.

Okay, that’s all for today. What have you been reading lately? What are your favorite blogs?