If it’s cold at your place, you need this berry
Open a glamorous magazine and you’ll always seem to find pictures of Waiheke Island’s open-walled ranches reveling in the tropical heat, bananas and oranges dripping from the thatch along perfect, blue-fringed, white sand beaches.
But what of the poor befuddled mountain man who skins possums to make his own clothes? What of the stone-walled cob cottage-dwelling hunter back from the hill who, when not shooting Himalayan tahr, spends 11 months of winter cutting firewood to survive the frost and snow amidst the wild windy peaks and skifields? What are we supposed to eat down in the chilly south where orange trees are frozen black overnight and even walnuts lose their fruit to frost?
The answer is thornless blackberries. Berry fruits are the ultimate orchard choice for harsh mountain climates, and as most of us know, normal blackberries happily grow anywhere, even through solid corrugated iron mulch in a hailstorm.
But when you do a little crossbreeding, remove the pesky thorns, pump up the fruit size, get rid of those pesky, denture-sticking seeds, you get a miracle fruit. No matter how hard the previous winter or how gloomy the torrential spring, by late summer you will have the sweetest, softest, yummiest fruit ever produced in any snow-girt inland Siberian Erewhon.
Along with their relatives, the boysenberry, tayberry, and ‘mixed’ berry crosses such as the loganberry, thornless blackberries will flavour many an apple pie or crumble. They are easily frozen for use all year round or you can turn them into sweet jam for your home-milled wholemeal bread. There’s also blackberry wine; no beaujolais was ever richer, nor any subtropical grape so sweet.
My friends in the deepest darkest western ranges of the South Island have a berry orchard with feijoa and jostaberries growing between the rows. They add trailer loads of horse manure and hop waste, and after 20 years of that kind of fertiliser, they can feed an army, even with their welldocumented -18°C spring frosts.
The pictures show their 2016 crop weighing down the vines. They sometimes net them against birds, but this year they had so many the birds couldn’t possibly eat them all. Each day a couple of kilos practically fell off the vines into the basket. Summer work in the berry orchards has taught them to espalier the pruned vines onto three stretched fence wires, angled north-south to catch the maximum sun. Winter pruning is hard, as you would with a vigorous grape, to remove all the old growth and allow new vines to be tied along the wires.
That’s the way to grow giant soft berries that simply drop off into your fingers and melt in the mouth. ■
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