Anyone Growing Berries This Year?
When I made a comment about growing berries in a
recent post here about CSA's, "PrairieMoon" asked
for more details - so I thought I'd start a new post in
the hope that others will chime in:
Raspberries were my first experiment, and once you
learn the tricks about pruning, they pretty much take
care of themselves - they DO require some space.
about a 3'-4' circle per plant. My favorite variety has
been "Heritage", because it produces twice each year.
Horticulture Magazine recently commented on a new
dwarf, thornless variety called "Raspberry Shortcake".
Next, I tried strawberries, which seemed like an awful
lot of work for a relatively short season and small
return. . .also discovered that ground critters (including squirrels!) wanted them as much as I did! Another
year, I tried the little alpine strawberries, which I could
site in the perennial garden and required much less
attention. . .but a couple of miniscule berries at a time,
IF it happened I got there first, wasn't very encouraging.
After a lapse of several years, I'm going to try regular
strawbs in an elegant old "strawberry" container this
season, , ,and it will be easy to create a simple chicken
wire cylinder to ward off the critters when the berries
My biggest success, by far, has been the discovery of
thornless blackberries, a variety called "Chester". . .but
the key was learning the correct way to grow them.
A local organic farmer, who sells these luscious beauties
at her farm stand, gave me a tip: let the enormously long
canes (12-feet or more!) grow straight up to about
8 feet - I use a simple trellis secured to a sturdy eight
foot 4x4 post - and then at that height let them arch downward, where you can reach them. Wow! What a
difference after my first year of having these huge
unruly canes sprawling all over my vegetable garden.
These berries are tough and care-free, but I did have
to learn about pruning out primocanes and floricanes,
a simple enough task - and all the info you need is
available on the Web. Incidentally, berries that drop
will frequently seed successfully - which is how I got my
second and third plants, and the extra volunteers have made my friends and neighbors very happy.
Blueberries: mixed success, because of their requirement for very acidic growing conditions, and
the need for cross pollination with a different variety
(even the "allegedly" self-pollinating varieties benefit
from this!). It took me a few years to learn this, which
just goes to show it pays to do lots of research BEFORE
you try something new! Bird thieves seem to be a
bigger problem than with my other berries, and netting
a whole bunch of bushes can be a hassle. There are
a number of smaller blueberry bushes suitable for
containers: a friend has had success with "Sunshine
Blue", and uses the chicken-wire cylinder for protection;
but you have add bird netting as well, since chicken-
wire alone won't stop the smaller avian raiders. A recent
issue of Horticulture was suggesting another new
variety suited for containers, called "Peach Sorbet".
My latest experiment this year will be "Vaccinium
macrocarpon", otherwise known as American
Cranberry. . .and, no, you do not need a bog, or even
a particularly wet situation. From everything I've read
so far, I'm going to have a handsome 4' wide groundcover, tumbling over a wall. . .I can't wait!
Finally, on one of the Open Days garden tours last year,
I saw the absolutely ideal situation for growing berries:
it was a quite large, fully netted enclosure, rather like an
over-sized arbor or pergola. securely netted across the
top and sides, with an elegant door for access. The
entire structure was dedicated solely to growing a
multitude of different kinds of berries, and a few grape
vines. It was a thing of beauty, and made so much
sense. . .but probably not on a scale that would suit
most of OUR back yards. Still, I suspect a smaller, less
grand version might be possible for those of us who
are dedicated berry fanatics!