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Dear Friend and Gardener

Backyard Berries for Delight

Raspberries

Raspberries beginning to ripen

If you have berries in your backyard you can have fresh blueberries on your cereal in the morning and raspberries on your shortcake or ice cream for your dinner dessert. As far as I am concerned these are the easiest backyard berries to plant and harvest, but I am considering adding thornless blackberries.

No matter what kind of berries you want, the first thing to do is choose your site and prepare your soil. All berries need at least 6 hours of full sun a day, and regular watering in well draining soil. Check your soil pH. Raspberries prefer soil 5.5 to 6.5 and blueberries need more acid soil, below 6.0.

I grew different varieties of red raspberries in Heath, and I have two rows of red raspberries and one row of golden raspberries in Greenfield. I think these are easy to grow and handle, and I confess that the older I get the easier I want my gardening tasks to be.

Preparing the soil means digging out all the weeds and testing the soil. Then you can incorporate compost and a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Those numbers refer to the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, the three major nutrients needed for good plant growth, in the fertilizer. All this should be done at least a week or two before planting.

I chose bare root Prelude raspberries which are supposed to begin bearing at the end of June, and Nova which begins fruiting a bit later and bears into early August. My neighbor gave me five gold raspberry roots which will bear even later. These berries do not have large roots, and should be planted only deeply enough to cover the root, and spaced at least 18 inches apart. They should be watered in thoroughly after planting and watered well, an inch a week over the first season.

My three rows of five raspberry plants each are arranged with a bit more than two feet between the rows which are mulched to keep down the weeds. Those rows will fill out with extra canes over time. Next year I plan to install T-trellises that will define and hold in the three rows, making harvesting easier. Canes should be cut out after bearing at the end of the season.

raspberry trellis

Raspberry trellis of a different sort to keep cane contained and controlled

Earlier this week I visited a friend’s garden, and took came away with a box of ripe red raspberries. Already a few berries have formed on my new bushes , but I do not expect any real harvest until next year. Fifteen bushes is not a lot of berries, and I don’t see myself boiling up jars of jam, but there will be enough berries to eat fresh, and enough to freeze for future treats.

Blueberries

Blueberries under netting

The blueberries we planted in Heath over 35 years ago are still bearing generously. I assumed the soil there was sufficiently acid and so it proved. The one mistake we made was not to consider how to protect the berries from the birds. Amazingly  birds are not very interested in raspberries. We did ultimately put up a kind of netted tunnel arrangement, but it was after years of makesift netting schemes. Here in Greenfield we have arranged four bushes in a square with a planned net tent to cover them.

In 2015 we planted our potted blueberry bushes, even easier than planting bare root plants, at the end of the South Border which we hoped was sufficiently dry. We were wrong. This year we moved the four bushes which seemed healthy but had not gained much growth. We put them into the North Border which is a higher raised bed. They have gained in growth, but still no berries. I am going to spread a little Espoma Holly-tone (4-3-1) fertilizer in that bed. Earlier I spread some around my new acid-loving rhododendrons because it includes a measure of sulfur which will lower the pH of my soil. It will do the same for the blueberries. We will think positively about blueberries in 2018.

Our new town garden only has room for two edible berries, but I want to add that we planted two elderberry bushes which delight the bees when they are in bloom, and the birds when they bear their berries in late summer. That is all we require of them. However, the small berries these easy care shrubs produce can be eaten by humans as well especially if you are interested in making elderberry syrup to stave off winter colds and the flu, or elderberry jam, or elderberry wine.

My neighbor's thornless blackberries

My neighbor’s thornless blackberries

When we were in Heath, the house came with a wickedly thorny blackberry patch, but a Greenfield neighbor has thornless blackberries supported by her back fence. They are delicious out of hand, but can be turned into wonderful jam or jelly. Nourse Farms offers five varieties that will bear fruit at the end of July and into September. These berries need a lot more room than other bramble fruits. They should be planted three to four feet apart, with three yards between the rows. They would benefit by being given the support of a larger T-trellis than is needed for regular raspberries. Or you can provide stabilizing wires to hold them against a sturdy fence as my neighbor has done. They need soil with a pH of 6.5-6.8.

We are fortunate to live where we have access to a wonderful berry farm like Nourse Farms in Whately where we can get a large selection of berry plants and a large selection of cultivars with good advice about planting and harvesting.

Between the Rows   July 15, 2017

7 comments to Backyard Berries for Delight

  • Around here berry bushes are bird food. Much easier to pick them up at a local farm or market. I am still trying to figure out what is tearing leaves off astilbes and leaving them on the ground.

  • Dee

    Our soil is so alkaline that we can’t really grow blueberries in the ground. However, I have three small bushes in pots on my deck, and they do well each year. I also have a rather sad Raspberry Shortcake out there. I think it need a larger pot. I should take care of that this fall when things cool off a bit. Thanks for the reminder. Of course, blackberries grow like bandits here. There are some lovely ones that have huge fruit and are thornless. I don’t grow them because we have a blackberry farm down the road. Hugs from Oklahoma.~~Dee

  • Pat

    Dee – I confess, now that we are living in town, with a wet garden, I am more and more depending on our Farmers Market and Farm Stands in our wonderfully agricultural region, or most of my delicious local produce.

  • Oh, I agree: Berries are the best! Interesting about the six hours of sunlight per day. That must not be the case for Mulberries, since we have trees under Oaks loaded with berries–although the ones at the cottage in bright sun do seem to bear even more. We also have tons of black raspberry canes growing wild on the property. So tasty and wonderful to look forward to every year. But I would love to have greater access to fresh blueberries. Yum!

  • Pat

    Beth – I tried planting a mulberry once, but it did not survive. I wanted to feed the cedar waxwings. I’m quite jealous of all your berries.

  • Nan

    Your post was most encouraging to me. Thanks!

  • Pat

    Nan – I think the post shows you what a lazy gardener I am. More and more I am trying to arrange for the garden to take care of itself – to a good degree.

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