A Little More about Small Fruits
It's easy to have a steady supply of fruit and berries all summer long. A gooseberry bush or two will fill the gap between the last strawberries and the first raspberries and still be ripening fruit when the raspberries have finished. Midsummer will produce red and white currants. After that come the blackberries and then blueberries, and finally the late red raspberries, which ripen until frost. Compared with various fruit trees, bush and bramble fruits are easy to grow. They rarely require spraying for pests and begin bearing some fruit the year after you plant them. By their third season they should be in full production. Perhaps most important, they're very space efficient. None require a mix of varieties for cross-pollination.
To get started, aim for variety and a long harvest season, then plant small numbers of each kind and care for them well. Buy the smallest number of plants you can as you're learning, and if you want more, get a second variety. Incorporate lots of organic matter before planting, and mulch with shredded leaves or compost every year. Prune regularly through the season to keep each branch or cane as productive as possible. And train the bushes and brambles against walls and fences to make better use of space. Some fruits and berries you may want to consider are.
Strawberries announce the arrival of summer, bearing juicy red fruits loaded with sweet flavor. They're among the most versatile fruits you can grow. Junebearers set large crops over several weeks in June, making them a good choice for preserves or for freezing. Everbearers produce a slightly smaller crop in June, with a second crop later.
Gooseberries grow on dense bushes that reach two to four feet tall without training. Gooseberries leaf out early in spring. The foliage is a lustrous green, turning bronze to red in fall, and branches are covered with straight, inch-long spines. The ripe fruit is either translucent yellow-green or dusky purple to red, depending on the variety. When ripe, the fruit is juicy and sweet with a pleasing acidity. As with any fruit, there are marked varietal differences in flavor.
To get the most from raspberries, plant at least two kinds: a main crop variety for heavy early summer harvests and a fall (or everbearing) type to close out the berry harvest. Where the season is long, you may need to plant two fall varieties to keep you picking until frost. Fall raspberries fruit on new canes at the end of their first growing season and again the following summer. For heavier fall crops, prune the canes to the ground after the first harvest in autumn and forego the summer crop from fall varieties.
Red currants are very juicy and quite tart. When fully ripe, they are enjoyable out of hand the way you would eat any other berry. Traditionally, currants are used for jelly, jam, and cooked desserts. Ripe currants will hold on the bush for much longer than most other fruits without dropping or losing quality. Black currant bushes are slightly larger than red currants, and the fruits are not so conspicuous. Black currants are meatier, less juicy, and eaten fresh they're definitely an acquired taste. Cooked, however, they lose their musky overtones and make one of the finest flavored jams of all.
Blackberries are far and away the heaviest bearing of the bramble fruits, producing about twice as much as red raspberries. They ripen in mid-summer after the raspberries are finished, and are more heat tolerant than raspberries. Blackberries are robust plants that need to be restrained or they can become weeds. They grow and can be trained very much like red raspberries. However, since they throw root suckers so vigorously, you may want to confine their roots with metal or fiberglass barriers sunk a foot or more below ground level.
Blueberries belong in every home garden! Not only do they produce deliciously sweet and healthful fruits, but the 4-to-6-foot shrubs make handsome landscape plants. Once established, blueberries need little care or attention. For best productivity, maintain an acid soil pH (about 5.0). Garden Solutions (r) Blueberry Food will acidify your soil while feeding your plants.