What’s a strawberry tower and how do you make one?

It’s funny. I write about marketing, social media, business strategy, and productivity a ton. But make one mention of a strawberry tower and the Interwebs light up like a Christmas tree with people wanting to know more. Message received, my friends. Let’s dig into this fun construction project.

First, what is a strawberry tower? Simply put, it’s a vertical strawberry garden. Unlike other strawberry planters, this one’s a DIY project that you make at home with a power drill and some piping. Strawberry towers are useful for keeping strawberry plants off the ground. This helps keep the fruit from rotting and it deeply annoys squirrels who have a hard time climbing pipes.

Here’s what you’ll need to make it.

  • 5-foot length of 4″ diameter or greater PVC* pipe
  • 5 foot length of 1/2″ diameter or greater PVC pipe
  • 1/4″ drill bit
  • 2 1/4″ hole saw bit
  • Power drill
  • Long screwdriver
  • Soil
  • Shovel
  • Strawberry plants or roots that can fit through a 2″ hole

You start by taking the pipe and drilling holes in it using your power drill and hole saw, as many as you want as long as you can maintain 3-4″ of vertical spacing between holes. In mine, I alternated. Leave enough space at the bottom for the pipe to be partially buried in the ground, about 6-12″.

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Be careful. If you’re not good with drills, use a sawhorse or brace or something so the pipe doesn’t roll around. I drilled on the grass for this reason.

You’ll need the screwdriver to pry out the plastic discs after each hole. Do NOT think you can just drill 4 at a time and get the discs out of the hole saw. You won’t.

Once you’ve got the large pipe fully drilled, drill holes through the small pipe at 6″ intervals with the 1/4″ bit. Again, if you’re not good with power drills, put the pipe on something that you can secure it with, lest you drill through something important, like your foot. This small pipe is essential for irrigation.

Once both pipes are prepared, dig a 6-12″ hole in the ground and place the large pipe in it. Pack the soil around the base and dump the remainder in the pipe to stabilize it.

Place the small pipe down the middle of the big pipe and wedge the end slightly into the soil at the bottom to keep it from moving around. About 6″ of the small pipe should be above the top of the big pipe.

Next, alternate placing your strawberry plants and soil in the big pipe (avoiding pouring dirt down the little pipe), while keeping the little pipe centered. Fill the entire pipe with soil and plants.

When you’re done, it should look something like this:

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To water, get a funnel and gently pour water down the small pipe. The entire reason for this is that vertical gardens tend to get water unevenly – the top gets lots of water, but the bottom tends to dry out quickly. Having the central irrigation pipe allows you to water evenly without having to flood the upper half and have soil washing out of the holes.

Remember that vertical gardens often become nutrient-poor very quickly. You’ll want to water with a diluted fertilizer frequently in order to keep the soil capable of growth for your plants. Personally, I like Miracle-Gro, which is a very strong 24-8-16 fertilizer. Mix a teaspoon (you don’t need more) with a gallon of water every time you water. If you want to use an organic fertilizer, make sure it’s got a reasonable NPK balance (no 10-0-0 nitrogen only fertilizers), since strawberries need that level of balance.

That’s a strawberry tower! They’re great for maximizing small land spaces, and if you mount it in a deep pot or container, you could even set it up on a deck or patio.

* Some people are concerned about xenoestrogen leakage from PVC piping (mostly due to DEHP in its manufacture). From the reading I’ve done, the strawberry garden should pose a minimal risk, but if you’re absolutely against using PVC pipe, you can use steel, copper, or iron. You will need a serious metal hole saw for that to make the same construction, however.


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Concurrently process for maximum productivity

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I woke up with a to-do list over the weekend that looked something like this.

  • Make yogurt
  • Do laundry
  • Build strawberry tower
  • Make coffee
  • Do dishes

If I put the time each task required on it, it’d basically be a full day’s work.

  • Make yogurt: 12 hours
  • Do laundry: 2 hours
  • Build strawberry tower: 2 hours
  • Make coffee: 10 minutes
  • Do dishes: 1 hour

Yet all of it was effectively done in 2 1/2 hours. Why? Concurrent processing, parallel processing. Making yogurt realistically takes about 10 minutes to boil milk, cool it, add a starter, and dump in a low-heat warmer for 12 hours. Laundry takes 5 minutes to dump into the washer and then come back in 2 hours. Coffee takes 10 minutes and can happen at the same time as yogurt making. Doing the dishes takes 5 minutes to put the dishes in a dishwasher, add soap, and come back in an hour. The only task that required sustained effort was making a strawberry tower, which took the full two hours allotted to it, but could be started after all of the other chores were underway.

Oftentimes, people say they can multi-task. We know cognitively, this is exceptionally difficult to do unless you’re doing lots of right-brain work and almost no left-brain work, because the left brain is a serial processor that can effectively do one thing at a time. What people who are good at “multi-tasking” are good at is actually concurrent processing, where tasks can be started and moved into the background while other tasks are accomplished.

To be good at concurrent processing, you need to be good at understanding what tasks require sustained attention, and what tasks can operate on their own for a while. Line up all of your background tasks and front-load your day with them so that they kick off and run on their own, then serially process the remaining tasks based on your priorities. You’ll accomplish much more than you ordinarily would, and you’ll feel less stressed about the theoretical time that everything on your to-do list would take.


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The secret to learning how to do anything

MFA Mummies Exhibit

One of the things I hear people say most often is, “I want to learn how to do X”, whether X is learning how to code, how to cook, how to be a better marketer, and this statement is almost immediately followed by the sentence, “but I don’t know how to get started”.

You can, of course, start by taking any number of academic courses, reading books, talking to experts who have the knowledge that you need, and for many people this approach to learning works very well. However, many people feel a certain difficulty in remaining motivated once the course has ended. They reach a plateau, and that lack of momentum stops them from making further progress.

So how do you start learning in such a way that you do not lose momentum? One solution that has worked for me and many other people that I know comes from the martial arts: have a problem to solve. In the absence of a real problem to solve, it is hard to find reasons to keep going, to expand your awareness, to challenge your limitations. There are only so many ways you can code “hello world” before it is simply demotivating.

In ancient Japan, martial arts were taught by taking new students and teaching them techniques that would be immediately usable, especially in an era when those techniques might have to be used that same day to save your life. The first techniques learned after the basics of the basics were not always the easiest techniques, not always the simplest techniques, not always the most intuitive things for a new student to learn. Instead, the first techniques learned after the basics with the ones that addressed the most challenging, most common problems of the day. Your opponent has a sword and you do not, what do you do?

From this history lesson, we learn that the way to learn and keep learning effectively in any discipline is to have a problem or a set of problems that you need solutions to. If you want to learn how to code, have a problem that code can solve. If you want to learn how to be better at digital marketing, have a marketing problem that digital marketing can solve. For example, one of my favorite websites is Stackoverflow.com. It won’t teach you how to code. What it does do is have an enormous archive of questions and answers about very specific code problems and sample pieces of code to address those problems. If you are working on any kind of a code problem, is a good chance that someone has encountered a similar problem on stack overflow. Searching through the website will help you find sample code that you can then adapt, and in the process of adapting it, you’ll learn it.

You will not necessarily learn in a sequential manner in this fashion, but you will learn the solutions to the problems you have in a very real, very practical way. As you learn to solve more and more complex problems, your skill grows and the gaps in your knowledge eventually fill themselves in. The great advantage of learning this way is that you have a problem-centric mindset. You are not learning how to write code that is a solution with no problem; you are learning to take a problem apart and solve it, piece by piece. This approach will serve you well in real world applications, real-world experiences, and helps to keep you motivated. There is a certain gratification and intrinsic reward when you solve a difficult problem on your own.

Ultimately, if you are learning a new skill for personal growth or professional development, having a problem-centric mindset makes you a very valuable employee or person. You’ll develop the kind of mind that goes out and seeks solutions to real problems, which means you will be the kind of person who can deliver real results, often without the hindrances of unnecessary baggage, and in some cases, faster than other professionals.

That is truly the secret to learning how to do anything: find a problem and solve it. Repeat until you become an expert.


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