Producing fruit in your backyard, on your small farm, or on the family homestead is a great idea. There is nothing like fresh fruit in the summer and fall, and when you can pick it and eat it right on your own property, the experience is complete. Fruits that grow on shrubs or bushes are typically berries. If you are lucky enough to have some already on your property, you may have wild blueberries or raspberries to enjoy. If not, you can put some in and harvest the fruits of your labor.
When you grow your own berries, you have the chance to eat these delicious and healthful fruits fresh and to preserve them for the winter. If you have a surplus, you can make jams and jellies or sell them fresh to your neighbors. You might even be able to make trades. Berries are not just tasty, they are also extremely good for you and are often labeled by nutritionists as “super foods.” Berries are high in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, and if you can get them into your family’s diet, you will see the benefits.
Planting Your Fruit Bushes
You can pick up small fruit bushes from your local nursery. They should be able to provide you with examples of berries that will grow well in the local environment. Once you have purchased your shrubs, transport them home very carefully. This step in the process can harm a shrub by sending it into shock, especially at the roots. Keep the roots damp and covered. Plant the bushes as soon as possible after arriving at home. If there is any wait between getting the bush home and planting it, keep it shaded and keep the roots protected and damp.
Dig a hole for each bush that is slightly deeper than the longest root on the plant. Loosen up the soil around the sides and in the bottom and spread a layer of compost in the bottom of the hole. Place the roots in the hole and fill in with soil until it reaches a couple of inches from the level of the ground. At this point, give the roots a good soaking and then fill in the rest of the soil. Compress it gently with your foot, but be careful not to damage roots or branches. Keep adding soil and compressing until you have a slight mound around the central stem of the bush. Water the bush when conditions are dry.
The instructions for planting your new berry bushes are generalized and should work for most types. There are also specifics that you need to know regarding the care and maintenance of certain plants. Blueberries are one of the most popular of the “super foods.” They are wonderful when eaten fresh, sprinkled on cereal and in pancakes, baked in breads and muffins, and preserved or frozen. And they are so good for you! Here are some things to keep in mind when you are growing blueberry bushes:
- If you can, prepare the soil a year in advance for blueberries. They prefer soil with an acidic pH between 4.5 and 5.0. If you purchase a pH test kit, you can follow the instructions provided for amending your soil to the right level. It takes time for additions like sulfur or phosphorus to change the pH of your soil.
- Select a spot that has well-draining soil and plenty of sun.
- Blueberry bushes need one to two inches of water per week, so water them during dry spells.
- Use composted mulch, but never uncomposted leaves. These will raise the pH of the soil. Two to four inches of mulch will help retain the right amount of moisture for the bush.
- Select a variety of blueberry bush depending on when you want fruits. Varieties exist that will produce berries early, mid, mid-late, and late in the season.
- Consider two different cultivars. Most blueberry bushes will be adequately pollinated by bees, but with two cultivars you can get cross-pollination. The result is bigger berries and a greater yield of them.
- Your bushes will not produce berries until the third year, so pruning isn’t necessary until then. Instead, remove blossoms to help the roots grow more vigorously.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, consider planting huckleberry bushes instead of blueberries. They are a close relative to blueberries and thrive in the conditions there. They are not always easy to find, so check with local nurseries and get advice on the best variety to grow on your property. Like blueberries, huckleberry bushes need well-draining soil and plenty of sun. If you prune it well, you can even grow a huckleberry bush in a container. Place plenty of mulch over the roots of your bushes to protect them and to keep the soil moist. Within one year, you should have a harvest.
Raspberries are another delicious option for growing in your yard. Depending on the variety, you will get tasty red, white, or yellow berries either midsummer or in the fall. Here are some tips for growing an excellent crop of raspberries:
- Make sure the soil is deep. Raspberry roots need to grow down pretty far, so they will not thrive if the soil ends abruptly at hardpan or if the water table is too high. Other than that, raspberries are happy in a variety of soil types, but will make more berries with loamy soil that is well drained.
- Use a rich compost to help your raspberries grow prolifically.
- Raspberries grow very well on hillsides. The slope helps the soil to drain and also protects the plants from wind. They should never grow at the top of a hill or anywhere else where wind will be an issue.
- Be patient. Your raspberry plantings may not produce any berries for the first year or two.
- Your raspberries should get an inch of water per week. Irrigate them if necessary and give them extra when the weather is hot or windy.
- Your raspberries will not tolerate weeds very well. You will need to cultivate the soil regularly to get rid of them. Using mulch can help and will also protect the roots of the raspberry plants in winter.
- Pruning every year is important to keep your raspberries productive. In summer, remove the old canes after the fruits have been harvested. In early spring, remove weaker canes and keep cane heights to around four feet.
- Consider using a trellis or fencing to support the canes, especially when they are heavy with berries.
- Harvest your raspberries every day during peak season. They are ready when they come off easily in your fingers.
Currants are often misunderstood in the U.S. In grocery stores, small Greek raisins are often mislabeled as currants. Part of the confusion comes from the fact that the growing of currants was actually banned in the United States from the early 1900s until 2003. The plants tended to carry a disease that many feared could wipe out pine trees across the country. Today, new varieties are disease free and safe to plant.
Currants come in red, pink, white, and black varieties. The red, pink, and white fruits are used in cooking (for juices, wines, jellies, purees, and jams) and are not eaten raw. The black currants can be eaten fresh or used in cooking. Currants are not very common in North America, but growing them is becoming more popular, and if you can find a bush or two to plant, you will be rewarded with the delicious berries.
They prefer a spot in your garden that gets morning sun, afternoon shade, and good air circulation. They do well under other fruit trees and cannot take too much sun or heat without getting burned. Currants are not picky about soil, but prefer heavy, clay soil with thick mulch to keep the soil cool in the summer. They need to be watered until after the harvest. Pruning, as with other fruits, helps to make the currant bush more productive.
There are many choices when it comes to planting fruit bushes. Berries are a wonderful addition to your garden and once you get them going, they are not difficult to maintain. With a little pruning and an eye on the watering, you will have an abundance of tasty and healthful fruits.
©2012 Off the Grid News