Time to think about berries. February is National Pie Month and I love fruit pies. Blueberry pie is a longtime favorite. The Benson Place in Heath was my source for low bush blueberries, but I grew a collection of high bush blueberries behind our house. Now in Greenfield I have planted four Nourse Farms high bush blueberries in a square that can be easily netted.
Blueberries are easy to grow and they are long lived. Our Heath high bush berries were still bearing generously after 35 years and demanded very little care.
High bush blueberries, which are the most usual blueberries for the home garden, have few requirements. They need sun, well drained acid soil, and most especially soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. New England is famous for having acid soil, but it is a good idea to have it tested. We can usually find Master Gardeners volunteering to run soil tests in the spring at Farmer’s Markets and other seasonal events. Or you can buy a soil testing kit that will give you a pH reading. If the pH is too high, over 6, you can dig in a measure of sulphur or fertilize with an acidic product like Holly-tone fertilizer.
The biggest problem with blueberries is the birds. I had not taken this into consideration when I first planted blueberries more than 35 years ago, but my four new blueberries are planted in a 10×10 foot grid, which will be a little tight as they grow, but it will be easy to build a simple frame and enclose the bushes with netting as the berries start to ripen. I also recommend giving the berry patch or row a woodchip mulch. I pruned out dead branches when necessary, but that is pretty much the extent of care needed.
Blueberries do best when they can cross pollinate, and there are enough cultivars that ripen at different tines giving you a longer season. Duke is an early season berry, as are Bluegold and Patriot, all ready for harvest mid-to late July. Chandler and Darrow can be harvested into mid- August and Elliot will be fruiting into September. Of course, harvest periods may vary with your site and the year’s weather.
Blueberries have the added advantages of having delicate little bell-shaped blossoms in the spring and vibrant color in the fall. No need for the illegal burning bush.
Raspberries are about as easy to grow as blueberries, but they require a higher pH, between 5.6 and 6.2. As with any planting, the soil should be improved with compost before planting. The recommendation is that raspberry rows should be spaced 8 feet apart, but I have to admit that I never gave myself that much room between the rows. Raspberries will ripen in July; each variety will have a harvest period of about three weeks so it is good to choose at least two varieties to give you a longer harvest.
Latham is a standard variety that has been around for a long time and is a good berry for eating fresh or made into jam. There are other new varieties like Encore, another red raspberry, as well as Royalty, a purple variety, and Anne that produces pale yellow fruits with a good flavor. Royalty and Anne are ready for harvest late in the season.
Once they have fruited the raspberry canes should be cut back down to the ground. New shoots will come up in the spring. Eventually those increasing numbers of new shoots will wander into the paths and need to be cut down as well. When the rows simply become crowded or some canes look flimsy they can be removed as well. I am only talking about regular summer bearing raspberries. I have never been organized enough to tackle the pruning schedule for everbearing berries which need to be pruned twice.
There is no need for netting. Apparently birds are not particularly interested in raspberries.
I have not talked at all about black raspberries which propagate by sending out long wicked spiny canes that root when they touch the ground. Obviously, with attention and some work they can be managed, but I was quickly overwhelmed by my black raspberries in Heath. The flexible thorny canes had a life of their own and grew exuberantly. I found it hard to prune and manage them; even getting rid of the prunings was a chore.
For all that I never even got much of a harvest. When I called the good people at Nourse Farm as to what might be causing the shrivelling of my berries before they finished ripening, they though the problem might be insufficient watering. In Heath our water came from a well and I did not have sufficient for watering more than I did. I mention all this because I do not want anyone to think that black raspberries require the same care as red and golden raspberries. The first clue to their difference is that Latham and the other raspberries I’ve mentioned should be spaced 18 inches apart, but black raspberries need to be spaced 3 feet apart.
There are many other berries that can thrive in a backyard garden, but blackberries, strawberries, pineberries which are actually a white strawberry that tastes a little like a pineapple, lingonberries, and currants will have to wait for another day.
Between the Rows February 18, 207