A Homegrown Supply of Berries

Reader Contribution by Rebecca Harrold
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Our three children have a real taste for fruit. However, unlike a daily supply of fresh eggs or the relatively quick turnaround of annual vegetables, producing your own fruit can take years. For us, the wait is worth it – being able to produce our own fruit outweighs the time and effort the endeavour requires. Simply put, homegrown food is fresher, and therefore, tastier and healthier. Growing as much of our own food as possible is also in line with our goal of improving our self-reliance.

This past year we broke ground on our permaculture orchard and planted 24 fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and plums). All of our trees are semi-dwarfs, so we’re looking at three to four years before they produce fruit. Berries, on the other hand, are a lot more (ahem…) fruitful a lot sooner than fruit trees. Since berries are among my family’s favourite snack, we’re growing and eating our own strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. We’ve also undertaken a blueberry venture and are attempting to grow blueberries from seed.

Strawberry

Our first attempt at strawberries was a 3 by 25 foot row. Our strawberries are an everbearing variety and we had a respectable harvest in June, followed by smaller harvests through the remainder of the growing season until the first hard frost. The June harvest was large enough that we could freeze the extra berries. The berries that ripened over the rest of the summer were plucked off and eaten. Any over-ripe berries were tossed to the expectant chickens milling nearby.

In the two years we’ve grown strawberries we learned a key lesson: use netting to protect the berries from hungry birds! The first year’s harvest was piddly compared to the second year because our netting was ineffective. In year two, in addition to netting directly over the row, we also erected poultry fencing around the patch to keep the chickens away from the strawberries entirely. The double layers of fencing worked to keep the birds away, but next year we’ll need to find a way to deter the beer beetles that find the ripe berries before we do.

Raspberry

We enjoy both wild and cultivated raspberries on at country home. The wild raspberries grow prolifically along the hedgerows and we watch in eager anticipation for them to ripen to a deep purple before we don our protective clothes and wade into the thorny, mosquito-infested brambles. I consider the effort worthwhile if I can pick enough to freeze two to three cups of berries and let my children enjoy eating the rest fresh from the canes. As my little ones grow older, I hope their contribution to the amount we freeze will increase. Presently, I’ll try to find conciliation in the thought that I am training them for future berry-picking-glory when I consider the measly two cups stored in our freezer.

We were fortunate to have a patch of everbearing raspberries already present when we moved to our property. However, the patch was steadily dwindling under a growing canopy of hardwood trees and was producing a meager harvest from its scraggly collection of canes; it was obviously time to transplant. In mid-April, we prepared a bed in a full-sun location and set about digging up the canes and moving them over. Come September, we enjoyed daily harvests of berries until a hard frost. The canes continued to produce berries into November, but a combination of the frigid nights and the weakening sunlight resulted in berries that were hardly worth eating they were so low in sugar compared to those from a month prior. At least the little ones still liked to pluck them off the canes and pop them into their mouths. Come next year, we’re hoping our newly-established raspberries will be even more productive.

Blackberry

We also planted three blackberry roots that over three years have grown into sprawling, thorny monsters that are in need of a new home. The fact is, a healthy blackberry plant will spread three to four feet wide and will be very good at colonizing via underground runners that sprout up five or six feet away from the parent plant. Where our canes are currently growing is unsuitable for such vigorous plants and a future project is trimming back the canes, digging up as much of the roots as we can, and re-planting them where they will have room to ramble – at the back of our pasture. The lawnmower will take care of any pieces of root that re-sprout.

Despite their present poor location and proclivity to thorniness, we do enjoy picking the dark, purple berries from mid-August to mid-September. I would estimate that the three bushes yielded 16 to 20 lbs this season. We’ve enjoyed them fresh, baked into pies, and were even able to store some in the freezer.

Blueberry

 As I write this, our hopes for blueberries are resting within the peat moss of 23 pots, sitting under a grow light. So far, 17 seedlings have broken ground. If we can succeed in germinating and growing blueberries from seed, we have a spot ready for them. Again, we tilled a strip in the same sunny location as the raspberries, but instead of buying and planting blueberry shrubs, we tilled in peat moss and coffee grinds (both lower soil pH, which is what blueberries prefer) and covered the row with a strip of silage tarp. The tarp creates a warm, moist environment that causes any weed seeds to sprout, only to be starved of sunlight and soon die, thus removing the majority of weed seeds from the prepared soil prior to planting.

Blueberry seedlings in bags.

Here’s hoping those seedlings keep growing! I would like to bake some Blueberry Buttermilk muffins with homegrown blueberries.

Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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