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Berry Bliss: A Guide to Growing Your Own Delicious Berries

Berries are the fruit that anyone can grow, given a sunny window or eaves and a hanging basket, or pots on the patio. There are berries for freezing winters and tropical summers, and every home-grown berry will taste like paradise, not the plastic they were wrapped in from the supermarket.

Goji berries

Goji bushes grow to about two metres high and wide and are tough. They grow well in pots too, and a friend has one in a hanging basket. They lose their leaves in winter in cold climates, and once established tolerate drought, heat and cold.

Mulberries

Plant bare-rooted trees in winter. Potted mulberries can be grown any time. Ours is a dwarf mulberry: it’s about two metres high and wide, and gives buckets of fruit.

Brambleberries

These are like blackberries but won’t become weeds. But they are still tough and prickly, and need lots of room to ramble on. Use either a tall trellis or a fence to train the runners along.

Silvanberries

These vigorous black berries ripen mid-spring and fruit till midsummer, the longest cropping season of all the brambles. They’re sweet and luscious, but don’t have the rich raspberry hints of some of the other bramble berries.

Loganberries

Loganberries are a cross between a blackberry and a dewberry, with long rich red fruit, a bit too sour to eat fresh unless you add a sprinkle of sugar or eat with sweet cream or ice cream — yum. They make wonderful pies.

Like silvanberries, loganberries are one of the first berries to fruit each year, about early December in our climate but earlier in warmer climates, but unlike silvanberries they only fruit for about three weeks. Old-fashioned ones have thorns, but new varieties are thornless and hardier.

Youngberries

Black, and full of flavour, youngberries fruit for about three weeks. Look for a thornless variety.

Boysenberry

Boysenberries have a wonderful flavour and are very vigorous, highly recommended for any spare bit of fence.

Thornless blackberries

Athough they do have some thorns, these start to ripen in mid-February, and keep ripening for about three weeks. They are richly flavoured, though in wet years can be soft and tasteless.

Brambleberries

Brambleberries can create a thorny wilderness. They fruit on two-year-old canes. When the canes have finished cropping every year, ie in autumn or winter, cut back all canes that have fruited at ground level. Cut the canes as soon as they have stopped fruiting or they’ll become so mixed with the new canes it’ll be hard to separate them. Tie new growth to the trellis every few weeks or it will start to spread over the garden instead of upwards.

Strawberries

We grow both the original tiny “wild” European strawberries, which have an incredibly intense taste, and the new giant Japanese ones, as well as traditional varieties like Tioga and Red Gauntlet. They all crop at slightly different times, so we eat berries for more months of the year. Choose the varieties your garden centre grows best in your area, from the tropics to Tasmania.

Plant them in full sun for the greatest number of berries with the most intense flavour, though they will survive and fruit a little in dappled shade, especially in hot summers. About 100 plants should give two adults and two children several meals of strawberries a week. You can also buy “strawberry planters” — a sort of pottery cascade of berries — if you’re short of room. And if all you have is a sunny window, try a hanging basket of strawberries instead.

Give your strawberry plants lots of food and regular water. A good lucerne or compost mulch is the best food for strawberries, plus seaweed spray once or twice a season. Strawberries are generous about feeding you so you need to return the favour.

Blueberries

Half a dozen to a dozen plants should be ample for a family unless you love blueberry pie. Plant at least two varieties: one early, one late.
Choose varieties carefully — there are many on the market, some needing intense cold for the fruit to set, others better suited to temperate areas.
Space the plants between one and two metres apart. Though commercial bushes are planted closer and thinned later, a good blueberry bush should grow about two metres wide. Plant them when they’re dormant, or in pots at any time of the year.

Blueberries need a moist, acid soil with lots of humus, long, warm days and cool nights and a six-month frost-free period, especially during January and February when the fruit is maturing. Blueberries are shallow-rooted and need lots of moisture, mulch and good drainage. Prune the young plants heavily to encourage bushy growth: cut away any weak growth, any frosted branches and any dense, low growth. Also, cut out any wood more than three years old every year.

Mulch and scatter blood and bone or chicken manure if needed — this will depend on the quality of your mulch — in late winter and after the fruit has set.

Blueberries will give some fruit when they are between two and six years old, but bigger, mature bushes of course produce much more fruit. A big bush yields up to eight kilograms of fruit. Let the fruit ripen on the bush: it won’t become sweeter after it has been picked. Pick the fruit at least once a week.

Raspberries

There are literally dozens of raspberry varieties available from specialist nurseries. Some bear early in spring, some in summer and autumn, some in both spring and autumn.

Try native Atherton raspberries that bear in winter. Other native raspberries are good too, if you can find wild berries to use for seed.
Always stake your raspberries, otherwise they’ll wander all over the place. I just tie them up in bunches to star pickets with old pantyhose, rescued from public service friends.

Cape gooseberries

These small bushes will grow wild in frost-free areas and may become a weed, but do well in sheltered spots in frosty areas. The fruit is held in transparent lanterns, and is bright yellow and slightly tart.

And there are gooseberries, cranberries, red, white or black currants and dozens of other berries, all rich in flavour and goodness, and all, thankfully, gloriously easy to grow.

Article Featured in WellBeing 206

Jackie French

Jackie French

Jackie French is a gardener, ecologist, honorary wombat, 2014-2015 Australian Children's laureate, 2015 Senior Australian of the year and passionate believer in the need for all humans to feel part of the earth around them, by understanding the plants that sustain us.

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