Monday, January 21, 2013

Berries!

Today we are taking a mini-vacation from our discussion of starting a community garden!  My fellow gardeners are dreaming of berries and today I will take a look at what it will take to add them to our garden. Cane berries will be the most challenging in a public garden because they must be contained and maintained. We will look at the challenges and rewards or growing all types of berries in the garden.


Raspberries
For me raspberries are one of the most rewarding crops of the summer.  Pints of berries are eaten right off the vine and raspberry freezer jam brightens the most grey winter day!  Just about anyone with a yard can grow raspberries.  They will grow from zone 3-9 and you can find cultivars specifically designed to flourish in your climate.  A great place to plant your berry patch is along a fence line.  You will want your row about 4 ft from the fence so that you can pick both sides of the row.  This spacing will also allow you to ensure that your berries do not escape into your neighbors yard.  Cane fruit does require a good deal of pruning for best production and to control the spread of canes.  You can run your rototiller down both sides of your bed in the spring and fall.  For your summer fruiting varieties you want to thin your canes to the strongest 3-6 canes per foot.  With ever-bearing varieties where you want one strong crop in fall clip all your canes at ground level in the late fall after fruiting.  Watering with a drip system will help to stop the spread of disease and mulching will help the soil retain water.  Raspberries come in many varieties   Do your research and buy only certified disease free plants and you will be enjoying raspberries for many years to come!

Blackberries
Next to raspberries, blackberries hold a place in my heart.  I have always picked mine wild...where they are seedy and I compete with the wildlife for my fair share.  However, you can grow them in the garden and you will be rewarded with plump finger staining goodness!  Unlike raspberries a ripe blackberry does not slip off the vine leaving a hollow center.  They require much of the same type of care and you can find many varieities commercially available. It is recommended that you tip prune blackberries in the spring to encourage branching and then prune like raspberries in the fall.  Like raspberries they appreciate full sun and will do best with some compost tilled in during planting.  Make sure to plant them in a spot that has not grown plants from the nightshade family or strawberries in the last three years as they share pests.  Your planting should produce for 15 to 20 years!

Currants
I love the idea of growing currants in the garden.  They are great both fresh and dried and if you decide not to harvest the birds in your neighborhood will be thrilled!  On that note if you do want to eat your fruit you better bird net your bushes.  Pictured are red and black currants, but it is possible to also grow white and blush currants.  I think I would like one of each.  These are medium to large bushes that will require pruning. They are attractive enough to be used as landscape material and provide large amounts of fruit.  The dried fruit can be used in place of raisins though they are not the same fruit as you find in the grocery store.  The bush should be pruned in the shape of a goblet...with an open middle.  Prune all second year branches as currants fruit on 1 year old wood.  When picking it is best to remove the entire group of fruit and pick it off the stems in the kitchen.  Be sure to dry your fruit well as it will mold quickly.  You can also juice or freeze your fruit and it makes excellent jam!
Blueberries
This wonderful fruit will require that you test your soil for Ph and likely make amendments to it.  However, once you have made the necessary arrangements you will be rewarded with excellent fruit!  By planting several different varieties you can extend your harvest and increase the amount of fruit produced.  Blueberries do need cross-pollination so you will need more than one plant.  Blueberries and currants can both be grown in containers and in the case of the blueberry there are types specifically bred for this use.  When planting in a pot it is easy to provide your plant with the perfect soil. There are varieties that will grow from zone 3-10.  Here in zone 6 I would be looking at the High-bush types.  There are also Low-bush an Rabbit-eye blueberries.  Once the blueberries turn blue be patient and wait another week as they will increase in sweetness given the extra time.  Like all berries you might find it important to net your bushes.  If you pay attention to your soil you should find it fairly easy to grow blueberries.
Strawberries
If you have even the smallest amount of outdoor space you can grow strawberries.  They do especially well in hanging baskets as they are out of reach of the slugs!  There are three types of strawberries- ever-bearing, day neutral and June bearing.  By including all three types of strawberries in your garden you will spread you berry harvest over the entire summer season.  Strawberries are easy to cultivate and even propagate as they will send out runners that will root and can be used to expand your berry bed.  When the plants start to fruit it is a good idea to mulch with straw to keep the berries out of the mud.  Strawberries will grow from 3-10 which means almost anyone who can garden out side can grow them.  Your strawberries can be frozen or turned into jam.  Of course many will be eaten fresh.  The best time of day to pick your berries is early in the afternoon when they have been warmed by the sun.