Hydroponics produce pristine strawberriesWednesday, June 21, 2006BY Jennifer MastroianniREPOSITORY FOOD WRITER GREEN - Do you love pick-your-own strawberry patches? Well, get a load of this: You can pluck your pick of vine-ripened berries without bending, without kneeling, without foraging and with not a single slug in sight. Sound too good to be true? It does, until you see the strawberry patch at K & S Greenhouse. K & S is the first and only commercial hydroponic strawberry grower in Ohio and just one of about a dozen in the Great Lakes region. Owners Konrad and Sadie Pilz and their two sons grow 11,000 strawberry plants not on the ground, but vertically in 600 towers, and not in dirt, but in a nutrient-rich, soil-free mix. The towers are designed like traditional strawberry pots, except that they are 5-foot molded foam cones suspended from a racking system that delivers a steady water supply. “The plants’ roots are in a mix of Perlite and Vermiculite, no soil at all,” said Konrad, who started the nursery with his wife 25 years ago and added hydroponics last season. “They are watered three times a day and just suck all the water out of the containers.” The result is pristine, disease-free plants that yield plump, juicy unblemished berries. “A lot of the berries are bigger than golf balls,” Konrad said. Not only are they delicious, they are a cinch to pick. Towers rotate for easy access to the ripest fruit and the ground below the patch is lined with plastic mesh to keep walkways tidy and puddle-free. Not only are there no strawberry-loving slugs in sight, but birds leave the patch alone thanks to plastic owls. “People can’t believe it when they see it. It’s very, very different,” Konrad acknowledges. Also amazing is that the growing season is through fall. REPOSITORY PHOTOS SCOTT HECKEL Soil-free growing Konrad Pilz and his son, Adam Pilz, stand amid 11,000 hydroponically grown strawberry plants in their pick-your own-patch at K & S Greenhouse in Green. K & S is the first and only hydroponic strawberry grower in Ohio. Berries are grown in suspended containers in a nutrient-rich, soil-free mix. Cost is $2.99 a pound, $3.99 if staff-picked. Be sure to call ahead for berry availability. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
“Berries in the ground have a three to four week growing season,” he said. “These here we will pick from June through October. My last pick last season was Nov. 7.” Customers don’t actually “pick” the berries. They cut them. “We have them clip berries from the plant with scissors,” Konrad said. “That way the little cap stays on the berry and it will stay fresh longer.” Cutting also protects the plant. If someone pulls too hard they could pull the plant from the container. Berries are $2.99 a pound. Staff-picked berries are $3.99 a pound. Diane Rogers of Akron and her 4-year-old grandson, Denny, visited the unusual patch one recent morning. “It’s so cool, I thought it would be something fun for him to see and do,” Rogers said. It’s not just family togetherness she appreciates. “The berries are a good price,” she said. “I fill up a bucket, which is three pounds, and it’s about nine bucks. Not bad when you get to pick what you want and it’s fresh. It’s not like going to the store and getting a pack with half the ones on the bottom rotten.” In addition, the nursery sells a wide variety of greenhouse plants, hanging baskets, herbs, vegetables and flowering shrubs. Be sure to call ahead for availability. Like traditional berry patches, sometimes the patch is picked clean and needs a day or two to replenish. Call (330) 899-9230. Directions from Canton: Take I-77 north to Arlington Road exit. Turn left, heading south. Turn right at East Turkeyfoot Lake Road (state Route 619). Turn left onto Cottage Grove Road. The nursery is about 1 mile down the road on the left, look for the straw wagon. Reach Repository food writer Jennifer Mastroianni at (330) 580-8304 or e-mail email@example.com Hydroponic strawberries at K & S Greenhouse 4391 Cottage Grove Road in Green (330) 899-9230; www.kandsgreenhouse.com