SINCE mankind’s earliest time on earth, survival was largely as hunters and gatherers, particularly gathering berries.
Our love of berries continues to this day, with this time of the year being planting time for all berries.
Berries prefer an open, sunny place in the garden with good friable soil, to which has been added plenty of organic material. Cow manure is great, for as the cows chew the cud, all weed seeds are destroyed and it also breaks down better than most other manures.
The range of berries increases every year and this one is no exception with the prospect of bigger and better fruit and they are sooo easy to grow. Consideration needs to be given how to protect the crop from birds. I have illustrated here a simple cage for also keeping the possums at bay that I constructed out of recycled material for the strawberries and blueberries.
Strawberries are possibly the number one fruit in the popularity stakes. I can think of numerous ways of eating fresh strawberries dipped in hot chocolate, or with shaved chocolate sprinkled over them. Is your mouth watering yet? Alternatively, dropped into a glass of champagne or perhaps just eaten with fresh double cream.
One of the best varieties is “Red Gauntlet” closely followed by “Hokowase”. The latter is of Japanese origin and is an early cropper. I understand that the fruit is sweet enough to eat before it is fully red. It is vitally important to only buy “virus free” strawberries that have been certified by the Department of Agriculture from your local garden centre. One is always at risk receiving strawberry runners from well-meaning friends that may transfer strawberry virus into your soil and plants.
Then there’s Jostaberry, an interesting cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry producing a most deliciously tasting fruit. Or perhaps you may just like the taste of the traditional English gooseberry?
Some berry fruit have thorns aplenty, mainly historically to keep animals and birds from getting at the fruit. However, this has now been overcome with modern breeding methods producing the thornless and non-invasive blackberry and loganberry. The latter is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry.
My research indicates the summer fruiting blackberry “Chester” is the tastiest. At boarding school, the fare was pretty boring except in summer when a group of us boys went blackberry picking, a favourite pastime in England. Somehow we persuaded the chef to make us a blackberry pie, much to the envy of 300 or so other boys!
Raspberries with their soft sumptuous fruit will always be amongst the most popular of berry fruits.
Raspberry “Chilcotin” fruits from relatively early in summer followed by R. “Heritage” from February onwards. Planting both will provide a continuity of fruit over several months.
Youngberries are becoming increasingly popular for one very good reason, they can be trained in a very confined space on a lattice or training pyramid either metal or simply strong wooden poles.
Let us not forget black, red or white currants. Personally, I always think the black currant tastes the best, maybe just because of its rich good looks, with “Magnus” highly recommended.
And finally, one berry with a very high vitamin C content is the blueberry, so overpriced at the supermarket when they are so easy to grow. Early varieties include “Denise”, followed by early to mid-season “Annie” and “Blue Rose” with “Brigitta” the last to fruit.
Despite this not being a cookery column, I do say all the berries make excellent jam.
I got so excited about berries I have not left room for prompts to keep you busy in the garden this week, except to go forth and plant berries!