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Grow Ordinary Food in Extraordinary Ways

by | Mar 5, 2020 | Food, GARDENING, Greenhouse | 2 comments


This year I am out and about from Powell River to Regina with my new talk “Grow Ordinary food in Extraordinary Ways.” I am not talking about growing Luffa sponges, edible Dahlias  or Sesame Seed this time around.

Speaking on live TV such as Global in Calgary with my daughter Chelsie or to community garden groups in Calgary and Regina  lets me share the garden good news.


This year I am speaking up about growing good old fashioned potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes. Yes, I am talking about growing ordinary food – in extraordinary ways.

This regular food is often rated as overly sprayed by the ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP who put together the Dirty Dozen list. Ironically these plants are so easy to grow in your own garden you will start to wonder “why not grow them myself”.


My own strawberries are picked daily in the summer. Subscribe to my podcast Helping Gardeners Grow so  the interview about growing strawberries in rain gutters with the Plant Charmer Khaled will be delivered to your inbox on May 4, 2020.

What is the Dirty Dozen?

These are the plants sprayed so often they bring herbicides and pesticides into your kitchen. The Environmental Working Group says “USDA tests found that strawberries were the fresh produce item most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues.” Since we eat about eight pounds a year per person why not grow your own? WATCH VIDEO HERE

Commercially grown strawberries are the opposite of “clean” food. And right after strawberries, another highly sprayed food is Spinach, followed by Kale in the number  3 position. SEE THE FULL LIST HERE


Ordinary rain gutters are set out on brackets in my BC Greenhouse Growers   greenhouse this week. I then planted 80 Albion strawberries, one every six inches, into soil poured into the rain gutters that have been drilled at the bottom for drainage. When the plant leaves grow large enough to touch each other I will let the flowers form. Before that I will clip them all off so the roots grow strong.


What Can You Do?

You can grow your own ordinary food by following the lead of certified organic growers like Gayle and Al at Eagle Tree Organics. Al says he only grew plastic plants before he started his farm with Gayle in 2015. Now this twice-retired farmer (first an RCMP and then a contractor) is a positive force  for food in his community. Listen to my podcast interview with Al & Gayle called Tomato Farmers: Getting a Late Start  RIGHT HERE.

Al and Gayle start growing tomatoes in their 3600 square foot greenhouse in May. Before they bought the farm they had 9-5 jobs. “Now we work 5-9” jokes Gayle in our podcast interview on Apple itunes.


Try Something Extraordinary

I followed the lead of Saskatchewan farmer Dean Kreutzer from Over the Hill Orchards  when I started growing strawberries in grow bags in 2016. And this spring I followed Khaled (@theplantcharmer on instagram) when I started growing strawberries in rain gutters in my greenhouse. To me these are two extraordinary ways to grow food.

Grow bags drain quickly and keep the berries growing almost pest free. I started using the root pouch grow bags after Dean from Over the Hill Orchards encouraged me in 2016. Now I love them so much I sell the bags on my web page.


Use Biochar

If you want to make your soils produce better you can add products to the garden soil to better hold on to the nutrients. I have written about this before but Biochar is still one of my favourite products for growing clean food in the home garden.

Inside my greenhouse I make use of the channels in the aluminum framing of my BC Greenhouse Builders greenhouse to attach aluminum brackets to set the rain gutters on. I believe the strawberries in my greenhouse will produce so much longer than berries outdoors and I can’t wait for my first harvest.  Easter brunch anyone?


Good News/Bad News

Khaled tells me during our podcast interview that the harvest from June bearing strawberries vrs day neutral strawberries is almost the same over the course of the season. The biggest difference – he says – is that you get your berries all at once with June bearing varieties and with day neutral types like Hecker, Eversweet or Albion you get them over a three or four month period from July through October. Dean agrees that for his clients in Saskatchewan and his own family, it is better to have the  stretched out harvest from day neutral berries so check the labels before you buy your berry plants this spring.

If you want the cheapest strawberry plants, you can find them bare root in boxes at local hardware stores and garden centres this spring. If you buy them early and pot them up they will grow fast. Khaled suggests taking all the berries and runners off the plants for the first few months of growing or until the plants spaced six inches apart are touching. At that time you can let them bloom and produce berries.

Dean tells me he uses alfalfa pellets for fertilizer while Khaled uses Acti-sol. SEE MORE HERE.

Just Get Growing!

Okay make sure to say hi if you see me at one of my talks this spring or better yet start growing your own great food this summer and let me know how you do. I am so excited about food and with my new podcast I seriously am Helping Gardeners Grow!

Last summer I grew strawberries in rain gutters. It was so great I decided to put four 10 foot long gutters in my greenhouse for an even longer season of delight this year!


PS Do you have questions about Gardening? Join in the conversation on my facebook live event every Monday by clicking right HERE.


 Donna Balzer is the Brand Ambassador for BCGreenhouse Builders and she has two greenhouses in her big backyard.

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  1. Hi Elaine- we will buy a product called 15 ml drip tape and hook it in with our regular greenhouse irrigation. Right now the berries are just getting settled and only need watering once a week. Outdoors we put in drip tape to test this theory last summer and used a pressure valve to control how much pressure was running through it. We also water about five minutes a day with the system we used. This is the same thing we will use in our greenhouse…. have fun and enjoy!

  2. Hi Donna, wondering what kind of watering technique you uses to keep the plants watered especially with the limited volume of soil in the drain spouts?

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