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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


Crazy for Berries

I have evidently gone crazy for berries. Every spring I have been adding more edibles to my landscape and garden, and the past couple of years the focus has been berries – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi berries, goji berries, and honeyberries. If I have to pay a water bill to maintain my landscape, it may as well be for edibles so I can reduce my grocery bill – plus the food is organic and as fresh as it gets.

Blueberries

Blueberries

I started with blueberries planted in containers several years ago. The reason for containers was that I live in the High Desert region of Southern California and the soil is on the alkaline side of the pH scale. Blueberries really like acidic soil – as low as 4.5. With the containers, it is much easier to manage the soil by starting with a quality organic potting mix and bypassing the native soil all together. I recently moved all of the blueberries into some of my raised beds, which are simply bigger containers, in an effort to reduce some of my water usage during the historic drought that is affecting California. I had veggies planted in the raised beds previously. I reduced the quantity of veggies in order to make space for the berries and other perennials, thus eliminating the containers from needing to be watered.

The original blueberry plants were picked up at Home Depot a few years ago, I do not remember the variety, but they have grown and produced nicely. Last year I bought a couple more plants from OSH (Pink Lemonade and Misty). I also ordered three more (Elizabeth) online. I have to be careful when choosing blueberries to make sure they will grow in the desert’s climate – we are in USDA zone 8b – with the biggest concern being the summer heat, which I have seen as high as 117 F.

The blueberries are relatively easy care – I water them about every three days, fertilize them in early spring and summer, and lightly prune them in late winter or early spring. The fertilizer I usually use is Blueberries Alive, which provides the appropriate nutrients for blueberries and helps maintain the necessary acidity in the soil.

Strawberries

Strawberries

Like many folks, strawberries are one of my favorite summertime fruits. Last year I decided it was time to grow my own rather than spending plenty of dollars on fresh organic berries at the store or farmer’s market. I set up two pyramid-style beds, filled with organic potting mix, to be the new home for my strawberries. I chose two varieties – an ever-bearing and a June-bearing. With the ever-bearing, I can have fresh strawberries available from mid spring until fall, which is great for adding them to breakfast or a fruit salad. The June-bearing provide an abundance of sweet berries in a short amount of time, although this year that time occurred from late April through May. There might be a few more come June, but our weird weather caused them to produce early. No matter, the abundance at one time allows the ability to make a nice batch of jam, and to put plenty in the freezer for use in smoothies, etc. throughout the winter.

Strawberries, too, are easy to grow. They are watered every other day, and fertilized with an organic all-purpose fertilizer every couple of months – spring through summer. I have to trim off some of the runners periodically to keep them within the bounds of the bed. Also, they seem to be prone to a little damage from “Rolly Pollies”, which I manage with a treatment of Sluggo Plus every three or four weeks. During the winter, I trim them back to the ground and await new growth in early spring.

Blackberries

Blackberries

Blackberries bring back childhood memories of growing up in Oregon. I used to pick the tasty berries for my sister and I to make cobblers and pies – if they made it to the house without being completely devoured. The only thing I did not enjoy about the experience was the abundance of prickly thorns. When I decided to plant blackberries, I was sure pleased to discover that they came in thornless varieties. I purchased two Triple Crown thornless blackberries at Lowes last year, and planted them in large whiskey barrel containers. This year, I moved them from the containers into raised beds like I did with the blueberries. I evidently missed some of the roots, because there are still blackberry plants sprouting up among the roses that I transplanted to those containers. They are going nuts in the raised beds, too!

They take minimal care with some pruning in the winter, occasional fertilizing, and some water every two or three days. By the number of blooms and baby berries, it looks like I’ll be enjoying bunches of them this summer – I can’t wait for some cobbler!

Raspberries

Raspberries

So since I was on a berry kick, I ordered some raspberries (a yellow variety called Anne) online. They, to, were planted in containers and then moved to the raised beds. These grew nicely in the containers, but after I transplanted them they seriously took off and sprouted up new canes throughout the bed. I am thinking it’s a good thing they will be limited to the confines of the raised bed.

These take very little care – water every two to three days, a little fertilizer, and clipping their canes back in the winter.

There are ample blooms and berries, which I have been harvesting for a couple of weeks, and should continue throughout the summer. Not many of the berries have made it in the house as they are consumed before I leave the garden. A note on these berries is that they ripen really fast and do not keep very long. I recommend that if you grow these, and they make into the house, to include them in a meal or snack quickly or they will become soft and mushy within just a day.

Kiwi Berries

Kiwi Berries

I was first introduced to Kiwi Berries a few years ago when a package of them was included in my produce box from a co-op that I was a member of. The berries were great – just like baby kiwis without the “fur”. I decided to investigate the possibilities of growing them and discovered that they were cold hardy (to -40 F), unlike the regular kiwis that can’t take the cold (sometimes into the teens, and I’ve seen it down to 6 F) of the High Desert winters. They can take the summer heat if given some shade in the heat of the day.

I purchased six of them – four females and two males – from TerritorialSeed.com. I planted them in the desert soil along with some organic amendments on the side of one of my chicken coops with the idea of the vines climbing up the side to provide some color to the otherwise drab structure. They did not do well – I lost three of them and the others struggled. I dug them up from the desert soil and moved them to containers with organic potting mix, and placed them in the protected area near some of my raised beds. The area provides afternoon shade and some mesh-type fencing material for the vines to climb. This year they finally flowered, but failed to set fruit. I noticed a lack of pollinators, but it has been excessively windy this year so I am hoping that was the issue. I hope to see them with berries next year. I have been keeping the soil moist, not soggy, and have fertilized them each spring and summer.

Goji Berries and Honeyberries

Just this spring I ordered Goji Berries (Crimson Star) and Honeyberries (Berry Blue and Honey Sweet) via Amazon.com to expand the varieties of berries in my yard. I planted them in a raised bed and have fertilized them once. So far they have leafed out and have grown a couple of inches. I expect it will be another year or two before they begin to produce.

Goji Berries are considered a superfruit and grow in USDA zones 5 and higher. They prefer well-drained soil and full sun.

Honeyberries are a type of honeysuckle and get better production if you plant two different varieties. They are also considered a superfruit and are supposed to taste similar to blueberries. They prefer zones 2-7 and are hardy to -40 F. I am taking a bit of a risk with these since my zone is 8b, but they get some shade in the location they are in.


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