Anyone Growing Berries This Year?

hunt4carlMarch 18, 2014

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
start maturing.

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!

Carl

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Carl, thanks for starting this thread. Raspberry jam is our favorite and I thought it might be a good idea to be able to make our own. I think one of my neighbors grows ‘Heritage’. Is it a red raspberry, right? I’ll have to read up on the dwarf thornless varieties. How many plants do you need to have enough raspberries for fresh eaten, the freezer and jam, I wonder? I only have one area in the back with 6 hrs of sun but I think that might be enough.

I have been wondering about starting strawberries again. I’ve tried them before and had the same experience you did. They're more work, having to work with the runners etc. I hope you will post photos of your container of strawberries this year. I planned where I could put some this year, but not sure yet if I will. I should give it another try.

Blackberries, I’m avoiding. I have a small lot and their root system and the way they spread is something I don’t think I can manage. I had a landscape architect give me some input long ago and I told him I wanted to grow blackberries. He said if I was serious, I should plan on surrounding the plants with a 3ft deep concrete barrier. [g] Didn’t tree oracle post that he actually has done that with his blackberry bushes? Sounds like you have a way of growing them that makes it a lot easier to manage. Do you eat them fresh?

Blueberries…I am going to try. I added two small bushes two years ago and one didn’t do well. The other had a few berries on it last year. So I’m going to add some more and maybe something a little larger this year, with better placement and soil prep. I hope to put in 5 bushes that are different varieties. Also hope to build some kind of frame or cage to keep the birds out. We’ll see if I get to that this year. I saw a photo of one of those small blueberry bushes. I linked ‘Peach Sorbet’ below. Strange name for a blueberry. [g]

Your cranberry experiment should be fun. Home made cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving next year?

I’ve read recently that Aronia berries are even more nutritious than blueberries. I have one in the garden and I may try to add a couple more of those too. I have to get a few and taste them this year, first.

That fruit pergola from the Open Days tour sounds like just what we need! At least on a smaller scale. I’m still thinking about whether I want to do individual frames for each shrub or if I should consider doing something to cover a whole area. Either way it will be work. I wonder if hardware cloth might be a material that would work without netting or chicken wire?

I have a grape vine, that I started from seed just as a fun experiment when I was winter sowing. I finally got it on a small temporary arbor two years ago and last year it produced a few grapes. Until then I didn’t even know what kind of grape it was. It turns out to be a green grape, very sweet. I was impressed. This year, I am going to try to learn to prune it right. If I can get it to produce a decent amount of grapes, I may have my son build me a new permanent arbor for it. I also want to add a blue Concord grape vine, on a second leg of the arbor. I wish I had thought of doing this years ago. :-)

I have one space for an ornamental small tree and I am still debating whether to try for a fruit tree. I won’t spray or use a pesticide or fungicide, so not sure there is one that would work, but this year I’m focusing on the berries.

Thanks, Carl, loved hearing about your berry adventures!

Here is a link that might be useful: 'Peach Sorbet' blueberry

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 6:33PM
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seanm10660 z6b(z6b)

I'm hoping to plant a 'Navaho' blackberry this year. If I remember correctly, this one supposedly rates a bit better on taste than Chester, and has a growing habit that is (hopefully!) a bit easier to keep in bounds. But it is less hardy, so could be an issue for folks beyond my z6b. Both types are thornless, I think, which is nice. And of course next year I'll be thinking about blueberries, and then raspberries, and then....

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 9:11PM
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