Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Black Raspberries – Thorny and Thirsty

Black raspberries

Black Raspberries

Black raspberries are delicious and make great jam, but they will take more care than blueberries or red raspberries.

To begin, black raspberries, sometimes called blackcaps, need a site that gets full sun, and has access to watering. In my own experience I have found that regular watering, two inches a week, is essential. I lost most of my first two crops because of the lack of watering. The berries were small and almost instantly dried up. I feared disease, but all they needed was regular and generous watering. This is actually a problem for me because my water comes from a well, and in a dry season like last year, there is not much water to spare, even for the edible gardens.

Black raspberries need the same type of soil as red raspberries, well drained and rich in organic matter. Digging in compost and some lime when preparing to plant is good practice. I did not test my soil before planting my black raspberries, but they do best with a higher pH than blueberries. I have seen recommendations between 5.6 to 6.8.

Black raspberries have much longer and thornier canes than red raspberries. This means they should be planted farther apart than the reds. Unfortunately, I skipped over that bit of information in the excellent planting directions provided by Nourse Farms where I got my plants. Instead of spacing them 2 feet apart,  I planted them about 16 inches apart. The plants are doing fine, except that they are crowded, which makes harvesting a little more difficult, especially when you consider how thorny the canes are.

It is especially important to trellis these wilder and thornier canes. The first year canes, primocanes,  get very long and require summer pruning. First they should be cut back to about 36 inches, and the lateral branches that develop should also be cut back later in the summer to provide a larger harvest.

If the canes are not cut back they will grow so long that they will touch the ground and take root. This is fine if you are interested in propagating more plants. Those newly rooted plants are easily cut from the original cane, dug up and replanted. My first summer with the black raspberries, I watched them grow tall, then gracefully bend until the tip touched the ground and began to root and produce a new plant. Most of them seemed to be bending in one direction and I had visions of the bushes marching across the garden from year to year. This must not happen. Back to the directions. I seem to be one of those people who has to make mistakes before really understanding what I should be doing. Luckily for me plants are usually very forgiving.

Like the red raspberries, the canes will die back after bearing and should be removed. At the same time you can also prune out any spindly canes, or other canes to keep the plant manageable. These are hardy plants, and I have not had any trouble with disease or pests. Many people have trouble with Japanese beetles on their raspberries, but since putting down Milky Spore disease powder years ago I have had no trouble. It is only the amount of pruning, that was a surprise to me, that makes them a little more work.

I have mulched with cardboard and woodchips on either side of my single black raspberry row. I fertilize with compost in the row, and also sprinkle a little lime in the fall to keep the pH level up. I cannot emphasize enough how important irrigation is.

Ribes – Currants and Gooseberries

A berry I have longed to grow is the currant. Red currants are a beautiful clear red berry that makes a wonderful jelly, and black currant juice is essential for making that elegant drink Kir Royale. To be accurate, Kir Royale is made with champagne and cassis, the cassis being a black currant liqueur.  Since I cannot drink alcohol I make a faux Kir Royale with Sprite and black currant juice which is sometimes sold as Ribena. It is a beautiful drink, with cassis or Ribena.

Unfortunately, growing currants and gooseberries which are all members of the ribes family, are forbidden by state law to us in most of Franklin County, as well as to over 100 other towns in Massachusetts. The reason is white pine blister rust.

White pine blister rust is a disease that requires two hosts to complete its lifecycle. Ribes fruits are the other host. Because we have a mixed woodland that includes white pine which we have had logged,  I am very aware of the danger to our trees. As much as I love currants, I am content to continue buying jars of currant jelly and bottles of Ribena.

It seems that more and more people are interested in growing some of their own food. The idea of permanent food plants is certainly very appealing. Fruit trees and berries fall into this category, berries being by far the easiest to manage. I also like having berries in the freezer for a really quick and healthy fruit crisp for dessert.

Between the Rows   August 3, 2013

Blueberries and Raspberries, Easy, Delicious and Nutritious


Blueberries ready for harvest

Blueberries and raspberries  are easy food crops that can save you money and are amazingly nutritious.

Berries are expensive in the market because they require so much labor to pick, are perishable and need to be shipped quickly. Yet it does not take much time or trouble to go out a pick enough for a family.


I think blueberries are about the easiest berry to grow. Blueberries are hardy, a native plant that loves our acid soil, are long-lived, and do not need to be picked every single day.

We planted our blueberries our first or second year here. Thirty years plus and those bushes still bear heavily. What I wish I had thought of then was to plant them so they could be ‘caged’ easily to keep the harvest from the birds. A planting of four or six bushes, planted in two rows, with plants four  feet on center in the row and at least six feet between the rows is ideal spacing and easily protected by a cage. We now have a cage consisting of pvc plastic piping around the perimeter, covered with black plastic netting when the berries begin to ripen at the end of July. The cage and netting come down after the harvest, and are stored until next July.

Highbush blueberries are available in early, mid and late season varieties. I have Blueray, early midseason, Bluecrop, midseason, and Herbert, big blue berries that begin to ripen after Bluecrop. All of them are delicious.

I did not test my soil, assuming it was acid enough (and it was) but since blueberries require a soil that is not much over a pH of 5, it is a good idea to have a test before planting.

Do not plant too deeply and do not fertilize your new bushes at planting time. In future, fertilizing should only be done in spring or very early summer. I have done little fertilizing over the years, no more than occasionally shoveling on compost or rotted manure. It is important with any new planting to water well, and keep them watered while they get established.  I have not managed to mulch very well, but it is a good idea. Nourse Farm suggests using aged woodchips, not sawdust.

The third year the plants are in the ground you will be able to start harvesting blueberries. We just started our annual harvest which will continue into September. No pest or disease problems, except for the birds. I prune out any winterkill in the spring, but that is the extent of necessary maintenance.

By now we all know that blueberries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C. I remember that when two of my grandsons were living in California their school had a curriculum program called Eat Your Colors, pointing out that richly colored fruits and vegetables like blueberries and raspberries, as well as carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, tomatoes, red bell peppers, purple cabbage, kale and green beans were highly nutritious.  What a delicious way to get our vitamins, anthocyanins, resveratrol and other unpronounceable things that will keep us healthy.


Raspberries ripe and ready for picking

Red raspberries are very expensive in the market because they are so delicate. It takes a lot of daily labor to harvest them, and they must be shipped carefully and quickly.

Unlike blueberries they require annual pruning because after a floricane fruits it dies and needs to be removed. Even so, raspberries, early, midseason, late, are very little trouble. I have had no problems with disease, and the birds are not interested so they do not require netting.

However, a permanent but simple trellis is a very good idea. T-posts at either end of the row with two sets of wires along the sides are all you need. I have my wires set at about 12 and 24 inches to support the canes, and provide me the guidance I need  to keep the number of plants controlled and in a straight row.

As with any new planting the soil should be prepared by cultivating with compost. Raspberries require a higher pH than blueberries, between 6.5 and 6.8. I do lime my raspberry patch periodically to sweeten the soil, but I admit I have not tested the soil.

Red raspberry plants should be planted slightly deeper than they were in the pot, with 12 to 18 inches between each and watered well. They will grow slowly the first year. They should be watered when the weather is dry, at least an inch of water a week. Watering is very important for raspberries. Mulching the berry rows is not recommended, but I do mulch the path between my rows with leaves and sawdust. You will get your first harvest the second year.

As the canes start to fruit, they will also start to dry up and die. Prune out those canes as soon as the harvest is finished. Fall is also time to take out thin canes or those that are growing outside the desired area. You can dig those canes of course, and give them to a friend. You don’t want to overcrowd the row because that can cause shading of some plants resulting in smaller berries. Limiting the number of canes I allow is very hard for me, but this is one of those cases where less is more in terms of an easy and good harvest.

Next week I will write about black raspberries. What kind of berries do you grow, and what tips would you give a novice?

Between the Rows  July 27, 2013


August Bloomers on August 1, 2013

Of all the August Bloomers, the Daylily Bank makes the biggest statement even though it has started to pass its peak.

Bevy of August Bloomers

Other August bloomer are just beginning. The most notable in this photo is the classic Echinacea or coneflower, with Russian sage in front and pink and white phlox on the other side of the bed. The phlox is late, with light bloom, because the deer had been snacking on the buds. Only once clump of Paradise Blue phlox escaped and it is going well in a bed with Switzerland daisies, and aconite.

Mothlight hydrangea

The Mothlight hydrangea is a dependable August bloomer, beginning in July and going into September.  My other three young hydrangeas, Limelight, Pinky Winky, and the native oakleaf, are all in bloom as well, despite more snacking by the deer.

Blue Paradise Phlox and Yarrow

Sharing a bed with Mothlight, are Blue Paradise phlox and a deep gold unnamed achillea. You cannot see the daisies and the aconite nearby in this photo.

Potted Plants

Closer to the house are potted plants like these petunias, and succulent collections. You can see even the succulent decided to be an August bloomer this year.

Lilies and Thalictrum

As part of the welcoming garden are three lilies, henryi, rubrum and a gold and white lily. Those are white snapdragons, part of the potted collection.  Black Dragon lilies and crimson bee balm are blooming in the center of  this bed, but they are not as lush as usual. I’ll have to add some extra compost this fall.

Thomas Affleck rose and lily

At the very beginning of the welcome garden is the amazing Thomas Affleck rose, along  with a floppy lily. Even before I got it properly deadheaded it has begun to bloom again, and will be blooming well into the fall.

Folksinger Rose

Down on the Rose Walk the Folksinger rose is also putting out a new flush of bloom along with the new Carefree Beauty, both Griffith Buck roses.



I will let this beautiful dill flower stand in for  the vegetables and herbs we have been harvesting, broccoli, summer squash, and lettuce, parsley and cilantro.


We are starting to harvest blueberries, but we have been eating red and black raspberries for most of July. Fortunately, blueberries don’t need irrigation.  The garlic harvest will begin soon, too.


Bringing Nature Home at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium

Dr. Douglas Tallamy

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, was the keynote speaker at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium last week. His talk focused on the need for more insects to make our gardens – and the world – healthier and more ecologically balanced. “A mere 1 % [of all insects] interact with humans in negative ways. The other 99 % pollinate plants, return the nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, keep populations of insect herbivores in check, aerate and enrich the soil, and as I keep stressing, provide food either directly or indirectly for most other animals,” Tallamy writes in his book and illustrated in his talk.

Bringing Nature Home


His enlightening talk covered a lot of ground, but two ideas made a particular impression on me. The first was the idea of the environmental carrying capacity of our local landscape, and ultimately of the whole earth. The term carrying capacity refers to the amount of resources needed to sustain a certain population. It is easy to understand that a given population of insects, or birds or whatever, will decline when the food they require decreases.

So, what happens when, for example, the emerald ash borer, which is a threat inMassachusettsright now, were to kill all the ash trees? Forty-four insect species rely on the ash tree to survive. No ash trees; no more 44 insect species. And that means reduced food for the creatures who depend on those insects so their populations will decline as well. Insects are the very bottom of the food chain and we usually do not consider how important they are to the wildlife that we enjoy. At least, that is true for me.

Tallamy said many people ask him why insects can’t eat some other tree or plant? He explains that over thousands of years plants and insects have evolved together. The insects’ digestive systems have adapted/evolved to digest the particular chemicals in a plant’s foliage. They cannot immediately adapt to a new plant. That is one of the reasons that invasive plants can take over. The food web of insects, birds and wildlife cannot keep the invading plants in check.

The second idea Tallamy put forth is that not all native plants are equal. Some plants support many more species of wildlife than others. This was an eye opener for me. I have been talking about the benefits of native plants for a long time, but this idea never occurred to me. As you might expect, trees are the most productive in having what it takes to support many insects and birds. Trees are big. But even here, some trees are more productive than others. In his book, and on his website,, Tallamy lists the 22 of the best woody plants beginning with oaks that support 534 species, down to the chestnut which supports 125 species. Black cherries, maples and willows are also highly productive.

If we don’t have the room to plant an oak or two, we might be able to fit in a crabapple or some blueberries. We can plant asters, morning glories and lupines in our ornamental gardens. We can not only marvel at and admire the lupine meadows that some people in our area have cultivated, we can thank them for supporting 33 species of wildlife.

Those lupine meadows also remind up that birds and other pollinators need clumps of productive native plants. Their eyesight is not always good so they need big clumps of a useful plant to catch their attention. Tallamy pointed out that 80% of our food crops are pollinated by animals. It is clear that supporting that wildlife is very important in our area where there is a growing number of farms.

Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.

Suburban yards can play an enormous part in restoring the health of our ecosystem. A whole neighborhood that includes a substantial number of native trees, shrubs and other plants can make a significant impact.

I am so grateful to the Western Massachusetts Gardeners for bringing us this excellent program that included Ellen Sousa of Spencer and the author of The Green Garden, as well as workshops on making compost, hypertufa containers and bentwood trellises that not only make our gardens healthful and productive, but beautiful as well.

Their Spring Symposium is their big educational effort of the year, and there are two more Symposia coming up on April 6 in Holyokeand April 13 in Lenox. Check their website for complete details. However, they hold soil testing events, phone and email hotlines where you can get your questions answered, and lots of question answers right on the website. They even have a speakers bureau that can send a speaker to your club, or class, or other organization. If this is of interest to you send an email to for more information.

Now I am wondering how many of us will find a place to plant an oak. Or a crabapple.

Between  the Rows –  March 23, 2013

Berries are the Best

Berries are the best. They are delicious summer fruits, especially when they are picked right off the bush and brought in for a morning bowl of cereal, a beautiful fruit tart, or a pot of jam. They are easy for the gardener because they are perennial plants and require little fussing over the years of their life.

In Heath we pay a lot of attention to blueberries. One section of town is called Burnt Hill because the hillside is covered with lowbush blueberries. A traditional method of controlling many weeds and insects is by burning the blueberry fields after harvest every few years.

There are many who are passionate about lowbush blueberries and think they are far superior in taste than highbush blueberries. My taste buds are not that refined and so one of the first crops we planted in 1980, our first spring in Heath, was a collection of eight highbush blueberry plants from Miller Nurseries. Blueberries need at least two varieties for cross pollination. This can also give you a longer harvest season by choosing early and mid-season varieties.

Within three years we were starting to get a harvest. I did not keep very good records at the time so I cannot attest to how much of a harvest. However, one of the benefits of berries is that they do not need much time before you are picking the fruits of your very limited labors. I can tell you that we are still getting a good harvest from those bushes. Blueberries are also considerate and do not need picking every day to avoid mold. They hang ripely on the bush waiting until the gardener has time.

I should say we get a good harvest if we beat the birds and critters to it. The first few years we netted each bush individually. Sometimes I decorated the nets with foil flash tape to scare away the birds. Then the bushes got too big to manage that efficiently. We finally built a PVC pipe cage around a single line of five of the bushes and lay bird netting over that. I wish we had designed the blueberry patch with a cage in mind right from the beginning, but we learn as we go.

I did not prepare the soil of that first blueberry planting. I knew that blueberries required acid soil and my assumption (correct) was that Heath had sufficiently acid soil. I was lucky to also have soil that drained well.

When I planted red raspberries several years ago, we did rototill the bed and I sprinkled a little compost, lime, rock phosphate and greensand in a totally unscientific manner. However, if there is a general rule to spread a little 10-10-10 fertilizer on a new berry patch, I figured I accomplished the same thing organically. I also remembered my old Greenfield neighbor, John Zon, who had a beautifully productive raspberry patch and he said he did nothing but mulch with fallen leaves in the autumn.

This time I bought my raspberry bushes from Nourse Farms, the excellent nursery we have right in our own backyard. There is no problem with finding a sunny site at the End of the Road, and I am lucky that with the exception of the Sunken Garden, the soil drains well. A sunny well drained site is all that raspberries require.

Blueberries need a little occasional pruning out of dead branches over time, but raspberries need to have the old canes that have already fruited taken out every year. It is also a good idea to prune out any spindly canes. You want the largest sturdiest canes to produce the best crop.

It is also a good idea to provide wire supports for a raspberry row, to provide support over the course of the year. I also find supports a way of maintaining a straight row. New shoots will come out into the path between rows and they need to be pruned out.

I occasionally throw a little compost along the rows, but remembering Mr. Zon, I mulch between the rows and find the bushes do well. I want to mention that raspberries do not need netting. For the most part birds are totally uninterested in them.

Two years ago I planted black raspberry bushes, again from Nourse Farms.

My first harvest last year ripened while I was away and was very poor because the berries dried up on the canes. At the same time the canes were bending over and the some of the tips were rooting where they touched the soil. It was making a mess in the garden. But I thought that was the only way they renewed themselves and left the mess and went looking for advice.

This year I belatedly found the advice about pruning black raspberries. I waded into all the bent over and rooted canes and pruned them out. I then cut back all the new canes that also were growing straight up to a height of about three feet to encourage growth of lateral fruiting branches.

However, after harvesting only a quart or two of small black raspberries, the rest of the berries were drying up into hard little balls. What was this recurrent problem?

I called the experts at Nourse and got a simple answer. They recommend two inches of water a week for black raspberries. It will take some thought and work to arrange that if we have another droughty summer. Wish me luck

Between the Rows –  August 18, 2012

Winterberry – Ilex verticillata

Winterberry 11-7-11

It was Martha Stewart who first introduced me to winterberry, a native deciduous holly. Since it was Martha who pointed it out in an arrangement I thought it must be exotic, and not something I could grow.  I was wrong.

I did buy and plant five winterberry plants this spring, four female ‘Winter Red,’ and one male ‘Southern Gentleman’, but this photo is of a clump of winterberry growing by the side of the road. Those roadside shrubs are in a damp spot which gives me hope that my new plants will survive even though the weather has been wet and strange  all this season.

It is a joy when a plant like this is a native that supports the native wildlife and is beautiful in  the garden.

Good Berry – Bad Berry


When I walked through the garden the other day I realized how many red berries I have in the fall. Three years ago I noticed for the first time that my holly, ‘Blue Princess,’ and my cotoneasters had finally started producing berries. That berry production has gotten more prolific and beautiful each year.

Hollies are dioecious plants, which means they need separate male and female plants to cross pollinate and produce fruits. While there are many holly cultivars I chose Ilex x meservae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ because they are among the hardiest of the hollies and ‘Blue Princess’ is considered one of the heaviest berry producers.

Both of these hollies are hardy in Zone 5 which is winter temperatures down to minus 20 degrees. They like moist but well drained acid soil and sun, although they will tolerate some shade. Full sun will give the best berry production. ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘Blue Prince’ will both attain a mature size of about 12 feet or more with a spread of up to ten feet. Fortunately they grow slowly only about six inches a year. In six years my ‘Blue Princess’ grew to about four feet tall and three feet wide. The ‘Blue Prince’ is smaller.

I love being able to prune off a few berry-laden branches for Christmas decorations, but I planted the hollies because I wanted more shrubs in the Lawn Bed. I am not ready to give up perennials, but as I get older I am looking for ways to cut down on the labor of maintaining perennials, dividing and cutting back, and weeding. Shrubs are so various with countless foliage forms, textures and colors, and even colorful blooms and berries that I think they add great richness to the garden.

About the same time  the hollies I planted two cotoneasters as groundcovers to provide a foil for the conifers I had in the Lawn Bed. They don’t grow very tall, only one or two feet for most varieties and the leaves are small and dark green. They are hardy and very attractive in every season.  I couldn’t wait for these to cover the ground individually and planted them much too close together. They have now merged and I’d be hard put to say which is which. One of them produces large quince-like blossoms in the spring. I just learned that the name ‘cotoneaster’ comes from two Latin words meaning similar to quince.

All cotoneasters (cuh-TOE-knee-asters) produce small red berries in the fall which will attract birds, if they are very hungry. They will not attract deer which makes me very happy.

Highbush cranberry

A third red berry that attracts birds in my garden the American highbush cranberry, the native Virburnum trilobum. This shrub is about 12 feet high in my garden and gives me no trouble at all. In the spring it produces flat airy blossoms that contain both fertile and infertile flowers. It is because of the flowers that I planted the highbush cranberry next to the Cottage Ornee. It also has very attractive palmate leaves.

The berries turn red in September and they are really beautiful. The birds love them, but I recently learned that they are not only edible for humans, but that they will make a very nice jelly.The berries are easy to pick because they grow in thick clusters and there are no thorns.

The berries can be harvested as soon as they are red, even though they will be crunchy at first. Freezing them before preparing them for processing will soften them up. I have been told that they taste very much like the cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, that are so indispensable on the Thanksgiving table.

The birds are certainly thankful. Most of my berries, without any help from me, are gone by Thanksgiving.

Autumn olive

While I welcome holly, cotoneaster, and viburnam berries in my garden I have other red berries that are a source of dismay and frustration. The first is autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, which we bought from the Conservation District many years ago. I planted three or four at the edge of the lawn, happy that they were fast growing and produced berries for the birds. They actually produce berries for me too, but I have never used them even though many people cook them up into a jam.

It did not take us long to see that the wind, or the birds, were seeding autumn olive in the field east of our planting. Over the years our planting died out except for one remaining bush. We are trying to eradicate the autumn olives in the east field.

The other dismaying berries are hips of the pasture rose which was here before we bought our house. We are constantly removing these briary, prickery roses and it is a never ending battle. They are very pretty and I have used sprays of their small red hips in holiday decorations, but mostly I arm myself with a heavy shirt and dungarees and leather gloves and try and cut them back at the root. Again and again.

Shrubs that produce beautiful berries give our gardens a long interesting season, and may attract our beloved birds, but if we are wise, we will be careful when we make our choices. We don’t want to invite trouble when we plant for color and for the birds. ###


Between the Rows   October 29, 2011

Cranberries in the Garden

As I was baking cranberry bread yesterday, I remembered an interview I did  with Wil Kiendzior and his wife Louisa Sapienza about their cranberry beds. Cranberries are another perennial crop that can be added to your edible garden.

Wil Kiendzior started gardening when two things converged in his life.  His two daughters were born and he started teaching high school courses on ecology and the environment, using Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a text. His first gardens grew out of his concern about the dangers of chemical pesticides and herbicides, and concern for his daughters’ health and safety.

His daughters grew up and the gardens continue to grow.  Since his retirement last year from the Mohawk Trail Regional High School, where he taught environmental science courses for 33 years, he has spent a lot of time expanding his Buckland gardens.

Kiendzior and his wife Louisa Sapienza, whom he married in 2002, are trying to become as self sufficient in food as possible. In addition to the vegetable gardens which include such perennials as horseradish, rhubarb, comfrey and other herbs, Kiendzior and Sapienza have planted fruit trees, raspberries, blueberries. They have a sunroom which acts as a greenhouse where they can grow greens through the winter, and start seedling in the spring. They also keep bees and harvest honey.

Sapienza said they are always working on soil building, liming the soil, digging in compost, manure, greensand and rock phosphate.

About six years ago, Sapienza, who loves cranberries, saw them listed in a catalog and suggested they grow some. Kiendzior was skeptical, but thinking about the benefits of another food crop and her enthusiasm he finally agreed.

It was a surprise to me to learn that it does not take a wet bog to grow cranberries.  In fact, they do not like saturated conditions, requiring just about as much water as any vegetable garden. What they do demand is full sunlight, and peaty, acid soil with lots of organic matter.

Kiendzior understood that perennial crops like cranberries need good soil preparation. He said he dug in lots and lots of peat moss, sand and fertilizers.

The official recommendation for 8 plants is a bed that is four feet wide and 8 feet long, allowing sufficient room for the cranberries to send out runners. The bed is prepared by digging out six inches of the soil and replacing it with a mixture of equal amounts of peat moss and sand. As you make this mixture of sand and peat moss you have to keep watering the peat moss which absorbs water very slowly. Patience is a necessity.

To the peat and sand add two cups each of bonemeal, blood meal, Epsom salts and rock phosphate and mix in well.  These will provide the essential nutritional requirements potassium and phosphorous.

Kiendzior’s first bed was a large block, about ten feet square.  It has filled out so it is totally covered with productive plants, but he quickly decided that additional plants would be planted in rows that would be easier to care for.

The root ball of the young plant should be placed slightly deeper that the soil surface. Like any newly planted seedling, the cranberry bed should be well watered after planting and throughout the summer. Peat moss needs to be kept moist to the touch.

Cranberries like nitrogen and should be fertilized with fish emulsion during the growing season.  Keep the beds weeded.

Each plant will begin to send out runners so the plants form a mat.  After two years the bed should be sanded, that is sprinkled with a half inch of clean sand in early spring before new growth begins. This encourages the production of upright berry bearing branches.  Sanding should be done every three years to rejuvenate the plants and control disease and pests.

After three years the runners can be trimmed back and the older uprights pruned back to keep the plants productive.

Once the plants are four years old they will start to bear. Cranberries should be harvested by hand before there is the threat of a killing frost, usually in late September when the fruit is a deep red.

Cranberries are a hardy evergreen but they must be protected from the cold. They should be covered with a mulch of pine needles or leaves.  You can even cover them with a rowcover or sheet of opaque white plastic and then layer on the mulch.  Don’t remove the mulch until the spring when there is no danger of frost.

I was interested to see that the Cranberry Experiment Station in East Wareham suggests putting mousebait under the mulch to prevent rodents from making a cozy nest and destroying the plants over the winter.

For people like Kiendzior and Sapienza who want to feed themselves through a long winter, cranberries are an ideal crop.  First they are extremely nutritious. They are full of vitamin C and other antioxidants.

Second they can be bagged up and thrown in the freezer with no processing.  They will also keep for a very long time right in the refrigerator.

And finally, this native berry is  delicious. Sapienza cooks them up with a little water, brings them to a boil and cooks them for a couple of minutes until they pop.  Off the stove she adds a little maple syrup to sweeten them and chopped up orange, or pineapple. “I have them as a breakfast fruit, or a snack, or with dinner. I love them anytime,” she said.

Cranberries do not need cross pollination but Ben Lear is an early variety with large burgundy berries, Stevens is a mid-season berry with large red berries and Howes is a late season variety with small red berries.

Sources: Cranberry Creations,;  Fedco Seeds; Gurney’s Nursery, PO Box 4178, Greendale, IN 47025-4178,; Miller Nurseries, 5060 West Lake Rd, Canandaigua, NY, 14424-8904

Cranberry Bread

Between the Rows  May 24, 2008

Wordless Wednesday – Fall’s Colors


Northern Sea Oats

Parsley - still



For more Wordless beauties this Wednesday click here.

Elise Schlaikjer

Elise Schlaikjer

Elise Schlaikjer has named all the houses she has lived in Phoenix House, but when she moved to Greenfield, just two years ago, the name was especially apt. It took a fall and a head injury, but Schlaikjer decided that after 23 years in Michigan it was time to move nearer her daughter Laura, in Greenfield. At the age of 73 she was ready to start a new life, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, reborn and full of new energy.

The energy may have been renewed but it was an old passion for gardening that she carried with her from Michigan. The energy and the passion are evident in the gardens Schlaikjer has created during her first two years in Greenfield. She has chopped down great pines that threw too dense a shade, grubbed out a big area for a vegetable garden, berry patches and flower gardens, built a deck, and a stunning labyrinth with a tiny temple at its heart.

She has planted those favorites of mine, roses and lilacs. One border contains Wild Spice rugosa, Topaz Jewel rugosa,  Souvenir de Malmaison and those David Austin hybrids, Gertrude Jekyll, and Graham Thomas, as well as the climbers, Golden Showers and Pearly Gates.

Throughout the perennial gardens she has planted lilacs from Greenfield Garden Club sales, as well as the beautiful double white Beauty of Moscow to the single dark purple Yankee Doodle, and President Poincaire, a double magenta lilac, all with delicious fragrance.

Elise's fenced vegetable garden, mid-September

In Michigan she had big edible gardens that helped feed a retreat center as well as herself, and founded a farmer’s market that continues on without her, offering music, workshops, a newsletter, and fresh local produce to shoppers, as well as the support that all small farms need.

Here in Greenfield she has planted and fenced a 30 by 30 foot vegetable garden as she learns how much to plant for her own household and the new friends she is making.

The vegetable garden had to be her first project because “I feel strongly about being self sufficient, being able to feed myself.” Building that garden took compost that she bought from Martin’s, and Bear Path Farms, and help to build the raised bed frames. Still, “My back attests to the fact that I did most of the work myself,” she said.

She has also planted blueberries, a type of currant that does not host pine rust which can threaten pine trees, raspberries and elderberries. She even has a small chicken coop built behind her garage to house four laying hens.

Vegetables, berries and hens are all a part of her self-sufficiency plan, but Schlaikjer knows that our spirits require more. On the eastern side of her garage there is an ornamental garden filled with perennials, and stumps of old trees. She has covered these large flat stumps with the stones she removed from the soil as she prepared this planting bed, making them platforms for bird baths. I have never seen anyone turn rubble stones into a beautiful element in the garden the way she has.

Other perennial beds flank a gateway to the labyrinth. It is clear that Schlaikjer has a real affection for stones, because the most stunning part of her landscape is a stone labyrinth with a tiny temple in the center.  The labyrinth was laid out with the help of her dowsing pendulum which also located the center of the labyrinth.  When workers dug in preparation for the building of what was originally to be a gazebo they found a huge boulder of white quartz, a stone that is considered to be able to transmit energy.

With the discovery of the quartz boulder, Schlaikjer decided that the gazebo would become a temple that would receive energy from the earth and from the heavens. The main furnishing of the temple is an extraordinary  throne-like chair, carved out of a maple tree trunk by a Michigan friend of Schlaikjer’s, depicting many wild creatures like a turtle, bear, squirrel and others.

Many of the stones that make up the labyrinth have been given by friends and visitors to the garden,. She wanted to make the creation of the labyrinth a community affair, instead of a solitary effort. “Also because, like a spider web, every stone becomes an energy connector between each contributor and the labyrinth…….. letting love and healing energy flow among us all.  I do ask each person, when they lay their rock, to lay it with an intention or prayer.  It is my place of prayer and meditation and I try to walk it every day,” she said.

Being a part of a community means that one gives and receives. When I asked Schlaikjer what advice she would give to a new gardener she didn’t only talk about starting small, making compost, and no till techniques. She added that “ a sense of adventure is important and not getting discouraged by things not working out as planned.  I look at the adventure as a learning, a gift that teaches if we are open, and also a source of fun.   And, yes, there are some things that feel very painful, like an invasion of grasshoppers, but that too, can give us a greater appreciation of what farmers have to deal with.”

I think Elise Schlaikjer is a gift we can all learn from. ###

Between the Rows   November 6, 2010