Taming Wild Apples and Wild Berries

With proper care, you reap the bounty of wild apples and wild berries you've moved into your yard or garden.

| March/April 1981

With rural land being gobbled up at a rapid rate, it's increasingly difficult to forage many once-common wild delicacies. However, we've found that grafting a few scions from an old roadside apple tree to commercial rootstocks can insure our household against the awful possibility, some autumn, that our nearby source of wild apples will be bulldozed to make way for a new shopping mall. And our transplanted backyard brambles eliminate long expeditions to a favorite patch of wild berries, many of which used to end with the discovery that the local bears had beaten us to the crop!

Adaptable and Hardy

Most wild fruits and berries will thrive in home gardens, since such varieties are typically very hardy. In fact, in our section of Vermont—where winter temperatures often reach 30 below—many domestic species can't survive, but transplanted native berries and fruits, born and bred to withstand the rigorous weather, are strong and productive.

However, before you dash off and invite wild edibles into your yard, heed a word of warning. We've been lucky, so far, to find healthy stock in our remote area, but wild plants sometimes do harbor diseases ... many of which can attack and devastate tender, virus-free commercial breeds.

So if you're already raising fancy hybrid raspberries or blackberries, it would be wise to plant their wild cousins as far from the "commercials" as your space allows to prevent possible infection by leaf curl, orange rust, or verticillium wilt (the most common ailments of wild brambles). Also, keep all your foraged bushes away from tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and apple and maple trees ... and don't place wild stock in soil where those plants or trees have grown within the previous two years, in case the former "residents" might have harbored diseases that could damage your transplants.

There are three seasonal stages in taming wild fruits and berries. First, as the fruit ripens (in its original habitat), we mark the most productive and healthy plants or trees with a stake or some bright ribbon tied to a branch or cane. Then, later in the fall, we prepare the beds to which the wild natives will be transplanted, working organic matter into the soil, and correcting its pH balance if necessary. And finally, the following spring, we go forth with a shovel, burlap sacks, and anticipation, dig up our prizes, and quickly place them in their new homes.

Succulent Strawberries

The perennial wild strawberry (genus Fragaria ) is among the most delicious of all fruits (sample the berries a season before transplanting, however, because some wood strawberries— Fragaria vescaare all but tasteless). The large, commercially grown hybrids developed from native North American wildings have never matched the delectable, aromatic, "strawberry" flavor of most of their uncivilized ancestors.

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