Plant small fruits for tasty treats later this year

It doesn’t take much space to grow berries that will pro­duce later this year

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN MIN­TER

COVID-19 has cre­ated a shift in our think­ing and pri­or­i­ties, and more peo­ple have be­come fo­cused on plant­ing their own gar­dens this spring.

In terms of food se­cu­rity, what can we plant in our gar­dens now, apart from tra­di­tional veg­eta­bles, and ex­pect a crop this year? Not a two-year-old fruit tree — it would still need a cou­ple more years be­fore it could pro­vide a crop. How­ever, many small fruits, es­pe­cially larger-sized plants, can give you some­thing tasty to en­joy this sea­son.

Ever­bear­ing straw­ber­ries, for ex­am­ple, planted now will pro­duce a rea­son­ably good crop this year. I love their ver­sa­til­ity to per­form well in containers, hang­ing bas­kets and gar­dens. Va­ri­eties such as “Al­bion,” “Quin­ault,” “Ever­sweet” and “Seas­cape” are among the best. Day-neu­tral va­ri­eties, in­clud­ing “Tris­tar,” are also ex­cel­lent and pro­duce over a very long pe­riod. Most straw­ber­ries are started from “run­ners,” but many grow­ers to­day are us­ing seed va­ri­eties which, when started very early, will also pro­duce nice crops all sea­son long. Va­ri­eties such as “Berri Bas­ket” and “Berries Galore” will have beau­ti­ful pink or red flow­ers for some added colour.

Ever­bear­ing rasp­berry pro­duc­tion has surged in the past few years. While main-sea­son va­ri­eties, planted now, will pro­duce sucker growth for next sea­son’s har­vest, ever­bear­ing va­ri­eties pro­duce fruit on this year’s shoots that come out of the root sys­tem be­low. Older va­ri­eties, such as “Her­itage,” are now be­ing re­placed by newer, more pro­duc­tive va­ri­eties with larger berries, such as “Au­tumn Bliss” and the new hot­tie “Cas­cade De­light.” “Fall Gold,” an older yel­low va­ri­ety, re­mains very pop­u­lar be­cause of its mild but sweet flavour. These va­ri­eties can be planted in the ground or in larger containers. “Rasp­berry Short­cake” is an at­trac­tive con­tainer va­ri­ety that is very com­pact and pro­duces tasty berries, but it is not as pro­duc­tive as ever­bear­ing va­ri­eties.

Well-drain­ing soil is a must for rasp­ber­ries as they hate hav­ing wet feet. Plant­ing four or five canes in a larger con­tainer will get you a fairly good crop this year. Be sure to cut your canes back to about 10 cen­time­tres to en­cour­age new shoots to de­velop.

Adding com­posted ma­nures to your soil and us­ing slow-re­lease fer­til­izer will help achieve a more con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tion. In colder ar­eas, mulch them heav­ily for win­ter pro­tec­tion.

Blue­ber­ries round out the top three favourite small fruits, and there have been some pos­i­tive changes here as well. I al­ways sug­gest plant­ing early, mid­sea­son and late va­ri­eties to­gether for a more con­stant sup­ply of berries. Vac­cinium “Early Blue” is one of the ear­li­est to pro­duce. The mid­sea­son favourites are “Blue Crop,” “Duke,” “Reka” and “Chan­dler,” which has the largest berries of all. “El­liot” is the last va­ri­ety to ripen, giv­ing you fruit well into Septem­ber.

Al­though the berries are smaller, a newer va­ri­ety, called “Per­petua,” is amaz­ing. One of the ear­li­est to pro­duce, it keeps go­ing well into fall. For very cold ar­eas, “North Blue” and “North Coun­try” are hardy to Zone 3.

In terms of space, some in­no­va­tive grow­ers are plant­ing three va­ri­eties to­gether, both for good pol­li­na­tion and for ex­tended pro­duc­tion times. It’s a great idea, and one you can do your­self by pick­ing the va­ri­eties you want and grow­ing them to­gether as one plant.

Blue­ber­ries grow nicely in containers if they have well-drain­ing soil and fine fir or hem­lock bark mulch worked into the mix. To main­tain good health and steady fruit bear­ing, make sure your blue­ber­ries are well fed by ap­ply­ing a slow-re­lease fer­til­izer, such as 14-14-14.

Even though the Lower Main­land, the Fraser Val­ley and Van­cou­ver Is­land have an abun­dance of thorny black­ber­ries grow­ing wild, thorn­less black­ber­ries are the fourth-most pop­u­lar garden fruit. They are not as invasive as their prickly cousins, and when grown es­paliered on a fence or trel­lis, they will give you a con­sid­er­able quan­tity of fruit the first year, es­pe­cially if the plants are larger in size. Over the years to come, they will pro­vide a pro­fu­sion of large, sweet, de­li­cious fruits.

“Black Satin” is one of the favourite va­ri­eties and for colder ar­eas of the prov­ince, and “Ch­ester” is the hardi­est. If size mat­ters, the “Prime-ark Trav­eler” has huge, eye-pop­ping fruits.

A whole range of nov­elty fruits, such as jostaber­ries (a black cur­rant and goose­berry cross), tay­ber­ries (a black­berry and rasp­berry cross), “Munger” black rasp­ber­ries, and haskap berries, will pro­duce fruit this year. Elder­ber­ries, with their high an­tiox­i­dant con­tent, will pro­vide berries for pre­serves and wine.

To­day, vastly im­proved va­ri­eties of most small fruits are read­ily avail­able, and they will per­form ex­ceed­ingly well. In these chal­leng­ing times, if you have a garden or a sunny pa­tio pot, all of these fruits are not only a great food in­vest­ment, but you’ll also love har­vest­ing your own home­grown bounty.

To­day, vastly im­proved va­ri­eties of most small fruits are read­ily avail­able, and they will per­form ex­ceed­ingly well. Brian Min­ter

PHO­TOS: MIN­TER COUN­TRY GARDEN

In the process of ripen­ing, blue­ber­ries go from green to a dark shade of bluish pur­ple.

Straw­ber­ries get sweeter as they ripen from green, to white, and then fi­nally to a deep red.

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