Choosing soft fruit for the garden

20. March 2021 by Isabelle Van Groeningen
Categories: About gardening, english, Seasons, Summer | Tags: | Leave a comment

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Beerenobst - Fragaria vesca semp- 'Alexandria' © Isabelle Van Groeningen

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – auf Deutsch lesen – One of the greatest treats for your tastebuds is eating perfectly ripe fruit, picked straight of the plant, warmed by the sun. Added to this delicious sensation, comes the slightly guilty pleasure of something slightly naughty, at least it used to be in my childhood. Growing your own fruit offers the unique possibility of leaving the fruit on the plant until just ripe, then taking it straight from the plant to the table, without long journeys, cold storage and slow deterioration in the shop. Especially soft fruit (such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, blue- and blackberries) starts to deteriorate as soon as they are picked. The other advantage of planting your own fruit trees and bushes, is that you can choose varieties that are rarely grown commercially.

If space allows, it is possible to carefully plan your fruit garden, so that you will have fruit right into the autumn. It is worth investing some time to research and plan the subject properly. Apart from your own preferences and use, there are several other points to consider. There is a lot of information available online. Personally I like the Swiss specialist nursery Häberli which has a very useful, informative catalogue, available on their website, that will help in detail with your planning.

What do you want and how much do you need?

When we took on our garden in England, there were many fruit trees and bushes. It was very well planned, so we had fresh fruit all year round. Lots of it. Too much of it. We picked, ate, cooked, froze it. Deserts, jams, chutneys, bottled, frozen. By the time the following year’s harvest was there, we were still eating that of the previous year. One should not become a slave of it. With time we had more birds, and the problem resolved itself naturally. Do you just want the pleasure of picking the occasional bowl full of fruit for breakfast or a desert, or do you want to make serious quantities of jams and jellies. How large is your family, how much do you consume?

Disease resistance and local climate

As most gardeners want to garden without the input of pesticides, disease resistance has become a big issue. More and more new varieties are coming on to the market that will cope better with the various pests or diseases that can affect your plants. If you live in an area with a particularly difficult climate (extremely hot, dry summers, long cold winters, late frosts, and also high altitude) it is worth looking out regional varieties. They are much better equipped to deal with the local circumstances.

Cross pollination

Many fruits will crop much heavier when there is another variety in the vicinity that will help to cross-pollinate it. Nature prefers to install in-built mechanisms that encourages pollen from other plants  rather than using its own. Apples for example are self-sterile and cannot be pollinated by its own pollen. There are special reference tables explaining which apples can be used to pollinate each other. Alternatively plant a crab apple: they have a long flowering season and can pollinate a wide range of varieties. Blueberries too will produce a much better crop when you plant two or three cultivars together.

Fruit in small gardens and balconies or terraces

Even if you have little space, there are some clever ways to grow fruit. Standards mean the plant is elevated on a tall stem, leaving more space to grow other plants at the base.  The crop will not be as big, but still better than bought, ad is back-friendly to harvest! Currants and gooseberries can be grown like this. If you have a wall or fence, use it to tie in one of the rank-producing fruits such as raspberries, blackberries or tayberry. Guide a kiwi over the pergola.  Late summer-fruiting strawberries such as ‘Mara des Bois’ are not as demanding as heavier-cropping normal ones, and can be planted instead of a hedge to frame a flower or vegetable bed, or plant them at the base of container-grown trees. Columnar varieties of fruit trees have an extremely slender, upright habit, making them perfect for a small space like a terrace or small urban garden. Another way of keeping a fruit tree compact, is by having it as espalier. These are very decorative as well as practical, and can at the same time be used as space-dividers or screens in a garden.

Fruit cages or netting

Obstkäfig West Green © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Obstkäfig West Green

Inevitably you will end up sharing your fruit with birds which can be very upsetting. One day it is there, the next it is gone, just as you were preparing yourself for it. We used to throw nets over the raspberries, which was quite helpful, if it was not for the fact that birds would often get entangled in the thin nylon wires. A more effective way is to construct a fruit cage. It is worth investing money and time in building a proper netted permanent structure. It will provide peace of mind and good harvests for many years. Alternatively you can fool the birds by choosing varieties with white- or yellow fruits. They discover eventually that they are ripe, but you too need to be happy with the idea of eating pale fruits. Worth remembering too that  it is the deep, dark red colour of fruits that contain the valuable polyphenols which are particularly beneficial for our health!

Soil and sunlight

It is worth providing good, fertile soil in order to have descent harvests. Plant adding compost and mycorrhiza (except for the blueberries) into the hole. Sunlight helps fruits to ripen and develop a higher sugar content and more colour. Therefore it is best to plant fruit in a sunny position. Where there is only morning or afternoon sunlight, plant gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. They not only cope with a slightly shadier site, they will also put up with poorer soil conditions. Blueberries require an acidic soil.

Harvesting season

Nowadays there are many cultivars of each fruit type on the market. The flavours, size, shape and colour may differ, some produce more fruit than others, some will flower and fruit earlier, others later.

Rhubarb:

The first plant to come into action is rhubarb. Strictly speaking it is not a fruit, as you eat the leaf stalks. Usually they can be harvested from April onwards. If you put a rhubarb forcing pout over it, they will come earlier into growth, supplying you with tender, pink stems. They can be pulled off from the outer edge of the plant at a rate of two per plant per week up until the middle of June. After that the plant should be left to rebuild its strength for the next season. They like a fertile soil, often found in the vicinity of the compost heap. Remove flowering stalks to keep energy in the plant.

Strawberries:

Beerenobst - Fragaria vesca semp- 'Alexandria' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Fragaria vesca semp- ‘Alexandria’

Strawberries need to be replanted every few years, so plan an alternative bed such as  vegetable bed you can swap crops. The season starts towards the end of Mai, going on into autumn. For example the old delicious variety ‘Gariguette’ will start ripening at the end of Mai,  whilst ‘Nerina’ or ‘Saint Pierre’ will carry on till the middle of July. There are also varieties that will crop throughout  summer into autumn like the ‘Alexandria’ Monatserdebeere and ‘Mara des Bois’, though these long-lasting varieties will give you regularly small amounts for a fruit salad or muesli, they are not useful as a jam-making variety, as they do not provide you the volume needed in one go.

Raspberries:

Beerenobst - Ribes idaeus 'Zefa Herbsternte' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Ribes idaeus ‘Zefa Herbsternte’

Depending on variety, these can be picked between early June and mid-October. The summer varieties will be ready June-July, whereas most autumn ones will not start ripening before early to middle August. Like with the late strawberries, the autumn varieties continuously crop over a longer period, but in smaller quantities. Avoid mixing summer- and autumn fruiting types in one bed. The canes that carried fruits on the summer fruiting varieties, need to be pruned out after you have finished picking them in summer, making space for the new canes that will fruit next year. The autumn-fruiting ones need to be cut back in spring before they start growing.

Gooseberries:

Beerenobst Ribes Uva-crispa 'Resistenta' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Beerenobst Ribes Uva-crispa ‘Resistenta’

Gooseberries make great desserts and jellies. Colours vary from green, to yellow, red and even dark, wine red. Most of the red varieties tend to ripen later, from the middle of July into August,  If you do not like the prickly piking, try the thornless green ‘Franziska’, ripe from early June into July, followed by the dark variety ‘Rania’, harvestable until middle of August. The jostaberry is a cross between Gooseberry and black currant.

Currants:

Beerenobst - Rote Johannisbeere 'Jonkheer van Tets' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Rote Johannisbeere ‘Jonkheer van Tets’

Some blackcurrants can be available from late June into early August. White currants ripen between the start of July, into early August. Red and pink currants start mostly early July, with the variety ‘Rovada’ harvestable into late August.

Blueberries:

The wild ones are delicious but hard work to pick. There are a number of larger shrubs, bearing bigger fruits that are easy to cultivate. Their harvesting season ranges from July into September. There is even a twice-fruiting variety ‘Hortblue Petite’ which will fruit again from mid-September to mid-Octber. Blueberries have the added bonus of good autumn colour.

Blackberries

There are an ever increasing range of relatives of the blackberry. Cultivated blackberries often have the advantage of being more or less thornless, making them more pleasant to pick. Check out on their flavour, as in my opinion nothing beats wild blackberries, even if they are much smaller than the cultivated ones. ‘Nessy’ is a classic originating in Scotland (they have a good growing climate for raspberries and blackberries) with excellent flavour.

The cross between blackberry and raspberry, the tay berry is a popular, tasty alternative.

Kiwi:

This vigorous climber needs space like a pergola or large trellis where it can wind itself along. Normally kiwis are dioecious, meaning you need to plant a male-flowering one for your females to get pollinated and produce fruit. There are a few exceptions: the small berry kiwi Actinidia arguta ‘Issai’ bears male and female fruits. For the normal kiwis it is Actinidia deliciosa ‘Solissimo’ that has both on one plant.

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