Engineering Ideas from a Strawberry Loving Family

Bespoke strawberry gantry to go in greenhouse

Mr Caster originally approached Alitex some years ago to help build a greenhouse that would have a large surface area without the associated higher ridge height.

Working with Chris Sawyer and Mark Mawhinney from Alitex, the best and most economical solution was to essentially have two greenhouses side by side but with connecting walls taken out, thus creating uninterrupted internal space.

Subsequently Mr Douglas Caster semi-retired from his all consuming electrical engineering job and resolved, along with his brother-in-law (previously a professional horticulturalist) Mr Mick Saywel, to indulge their passion for engineering and horticulture and develop some of the ideas they had been hatching over the years. First stop was a family passion for strawberries and strawberry jam which prompted another phone call to the design team at Alitex.

Co-incidentally Mark Mawhinney is charged within Alitex for the development and design of the fittings inside your greenhouse. Having worked with Mr Caster and Mr Saywel before, he was delighted to work with them again. “It’s great to help our clients fulfil their vision and with Mr Caster’s engineering background we began work from hand drawn and detailed plans, which he had compiled. With my own mechanical engineering background plus the experience gained at Alitex we were able to have technical discussions which were implemented into the design.”

Mr Caster was delighted that Mark was able to realise the designs which featured benching specifically for the growing of strawberries. With some amendments made by Mark, which ensured a more economical outcome and also one which added more strength to the structure, the benching is now in-situ and “built to last for the next thirty years of strawberry growers in the family”, said Mr Caster. The project has been both a hobby and an indulgence of the family love of strawberries.

Normally the strawberry benches will be planted up in January with a variety “Sweet Eve”, which arrive as frozen plants imported from Holland. The first flush of fruit is usually a bit watery but thereafter delicious; this year the crop will be a little later and fruit should still be edible in September. There are twenty pots per 5metre run, with each 5litre pot holding 3 plants, meaning 300 strawberry plants on each of the five benches. The fruit drops down which provides easy pickings. The plants are watered twice a day (with a varied feed)  from pipes which sit under each trough. One amendment to the watering system Mr Caster would like to implement in the immediate future concerns the recycling of this watering system as there is presently a 40% run-off. He plans to explore the idea of raising the plants slightly within their trough, sealing the trough with silica and adding an exit pipe for the water. The water could then accumulate into a dedicated vessel and emptied outside onto the apple trees. Other ideas in the pipeline for Mr Caster and Mr Saywel include a device which facilitates gardeners of an aged or infirm nature to care for seedlings and plants which need more protection – more of which I hope to be able to tell you in future blogs, but for the moment it remains a great idea/plan.

Mark in our Design Office has thoroughly enjoyed working on this project because of the passion and commitment of our customer to realise a design which began on a drawing board – although developing this project with the client has been out of the ordinary!

View for more on Design Innovation on our greenhouses.

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