Gardening

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Growing some of your own food has been on the upswing for several years and now those of us who work with backyard gardeners are seeing a renewed interest in growing small fruits. Blueberries and raspberries are the top choices with strawberries, currants, gooseberries and elderberries rounding out the list. Vine fruit such as grapes and hardy kiwi also are popular. So let’s look at a few considerations to help you decide if growing small fruit is something that you might want to do.
• First decide what you want to grow and start small—do not try to do too much too fast.
• Site selection is a major consideration so determine if you have enough space and sun (6-8 hours a day) to grow your crop.
• Soil type and pH are very important.  For example, grapes prefer a gravelly soil and strawberries want a well-drained soil.  Blueberries must have a low (acidic) pH in the 4.5-5.5 range.  Your county Extension office offers soil pH testing for a small fee and that is an important place to start for whatever crop you are growing.
• Research how many plants are needed for good pollination—not a concern for every type of small fruit but often two or more varieties of a fruit increase the yield.  This is important information to have as you plan so that even a small planting can have big harvests.
• Read up on what you want to grow to learn the pruning requirements and what the crop may be susceptible to regarding diseases, insects, and critters.  This is an important step as you may discover something that changes your mind about a fruit. For example, gooseberries have large thorns that make harvesting somewhat challenging.
• If you are looking for space to grow small fruits, consider your existing landscape as a place to start. Some fruits that look comfortable in the landscape are Aronia arbutifolia, red chokeberry, and the black fruited variety, melanocarpa; they are handsome shrubs with multi-season appeal, having spring flowers, summer fruit and fall color. The fruit can be made into jam or juice and is prized for its high antioxidant values. Juneberry, a type of Serviceberry, produces a large blueberry-like fruit without the low soil pH requirements. Look for the variety “Regent” as its mature size is more suitable for landscape use. New varieties of blueberry and raspberry called BrazelBerries® have been hybridized to be small compact bushes that are easy to grow in containers, putting fruit growing in the realm of possibility for gardeners with space constraints.
Birds and chipmunks are the main challenges as the fruit is accessible to them and they know when it is ripe! Netting is effective as are visual deterrents such as solar-powered owls that move periodically and appear lifelike.
The pleasure of picking your own backyard berries and eating them while the flavor and nutrition are at their peak is priceless—the only thing better is sharing them.
Sources for growing backyard fruit for the home gardener:
The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto.  OttoGraphics, 1995
Grow Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich.  Taunton Press, 2012

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