Q. Life Love Beauty – Can you propagate your own berry bushes to share with other gardeners?
A. Stella Otto – It is possible to propagate your own berry plants, but not always the wisest. One of the best things a plant from a reputable specialty nursery offers is that is disease free. This can be especially important with raspberries that can harbor viruses that aren’t readily apparent, but will yield poor quality, seedy, crumbly berries for all your work. Also, given that most berry plants are relatively inexpensive, propagating your own will take a season or more that you could be harvesting fruit instead from a purchased plant.
Q. Life Love Beauty – Once you begin harvesting your berries, what are some things you can do with them?
A. Stella Otto – If the fruit makes it beyond fresh eating straight from vine, your imagination is the limit! Of, course there are all kinds of jams, preserves, and chutneys. Baked goods and pies, fruit leathers if you have a dehydrator, and frozen for winter use are all great ways to use your harvest year around.
Q. Life Love Beauty – Are there any special ways to preserve your home-grown berries? Do you need to follow a special or difficult process to freeze them, can them, create preserves, etc?
A. Stella Otto – Preserving fruit is relatively simple. To freeze berries, I just spread clean berries in a single layer on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet, pop in the freezer until frozen, and then store in Ziploc freezer bags to use as I need later. For preserves, the boxed pectin from the grocery store includes lots of recipes or the “bible of canning and preserving,” the Ball Blue Book has easy to follow directions. Most county cooperative extension service offices also have a home nutritionist who can offer advice.
Q. Life Love Beauty – How many years old must each different berry bush be in order to produce fruit? Which kinds produce fruit on the first year? Can you buy older branches and vines to speed up the process for others?
A. Stella Otto – Day neutral strawberry varieties and primocane (aka: fall-bearing) raspberries will yield fruit in the year of planting. “June-bearing” strawberries will yield their best crop one year after planting and continue producing for three to four years. Brambles also yield the year following planting and will continue to do so for 10 or more years. Bush and vine fruit will start to produce small crops in their second or third year, depending on the care they receive. Crop size will increase in the fourth and fifth years. They too will bear for many years to come, with good care.
Q. Life Love Beauty – I’ve heard something about needing a male and a female plant for some kinds of berries… what is the deal and which berries need a male and female plant in order to produce?
A. Stella Otto – Although cross pollination is mainly a requirement of certain tree fruits, it is also necessary for kiwifruit, black currants, and some muscadine grape and rabbiteye blueberry varieties that are grown in the south. So, be sure to select at least two compatible varieties to grow together. Kiwifruit and muscadine grapes have plants that are functionally male or female. A compatible male is needed for every six or so female plants. A complete explanation can be found in The Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden. Or the nursery can advise gardeners on appropriate “mates.”
Q. Life Love Beauty – Anything else you would like to add?
A. Stella Otto – When choosing fruit varieties, the gardener should keep in mind their growing season length. Some varieties, notably fall-bearing raspberries, need a long season to ripen the crop or it will be damaged by late frosts. Also early flowering varieties may be nipped by spring frost if not protected. Some varieties also withstand the heat of the south better than others.
Many cultural practices will help the home gardener control pests and diseases with minimal or no chemical materials. They include choosing disease resistant varieties; keeping the garden cleaned up and free of leaf litter that create overwintering sites for insects and rodent; using trickle rather than sprinkler irrigation; pruning to encourage air circulation throughout the vine or bush; fertilizing and watering judiciously for strong healthy plants.
About the Expert:
Stella Otto is the author of The Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit
in the home garden and The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden, both of which are available at Amazon.com and eligible for Super Saver Shipping.