By: Jonathan Sturm
Raspberries and Brambles
These fruits bear on shoots that grew last year and need trellising for support. Raspberries can be tied to a simple two-wire fence with wires 70 and 140 cm above the ground. Better, is growing them between two such fences. The shoots of brambles are tied to a two-wire trellis, the wires being 60 and 120 cm above the ground. The new season's bramble shoots are best trained one way, last year's fruiting shoots being trained the other way.
Most raspberries are planted 40-60 cm apart, and 80 cm for the more vigorous Williamette. Brambles need 2.5-3 m between plants. Allow 1.5-2 m between the rows. They should be planted out in winter.
Mulch and compost the plants heavily in ground that is free of perennial weeds.
Pruning consists of removing the shoots that have just fruited as soon as possible after harvesting has finished. Some of the autumn bearing raspberry canes are pruned back to 60 cm in spring, to encourage the autumn crop. These are removed after harvest, leaving the unpruned canes to crop the following summer.
Raspberries and brambleberries ripen over about a three to four week period in late spring and early summer, with a lighter crop in the autumn for some varieties. The fruit continues to ripen after picking, but fruit ripened on the canes tastes best. Fruit harvested for market must be under ripe, or it will decay too quickly. The berries must not be picked when wet. In hot weather it is necessary to harvest every two or three days.
Black, Red and White Currants
Currants are propagated from sticks taken in winter, which readily take root in the soil. They can be grown in a nursery bed for a year at a spacing of 30 cm, or planted direct where they are to grow in rows 2 m apart with 1.2 m between plants. They should be composted and mulched heavily. Perennial weeds can be a problem, so plant them into ground free of them.
Black currants are pruned by removing the wood that bore last year's fruit, and removing the weaker shoots. Red and white currants bear their fruit on permanent spurs, so they are pruned to an open vase shape and the extension growth shortened by about half. The stem should be 30-40 cm and up to eight leaders are retained to create the vase. After the fourth year, two of the old shoots can be cut back every year and new shoots selected to replace them.
Yields are of the order of 2-3 kg per bush when they are mature. Birds avidly consume red currants, so they need protection. Harvest the trusses of fruit when the ripest commence to fall. The berries can be removed from the trusses by pulling them through a kitchen fork. Red and white currants ripen in early summer, followed by black currants a few weeks later.
Gooseberries are not as popular as they once were. They are a versatile fruit, making excellent jams, pies, tarts, jellies and wine. They are the earliest fruit, ripening at the same time as cherries and do not need soil as fertile as that needed for brambles, raspberries and currants. Their chief disadvantages are their thorny nature, which makes harvesting difficult, and mildew. The mildew appears to be controlled readily by a 3% solution of waterglass (sodium silicate) spray.
Gooseberries grow well wherever apples thrive, but need shelter from wind and hot sun. Excessive rainfall near harvest will crack the fruit.
Mulching is essential to maintain an even water supply, though drainage is essential to prevent waterlogging, which gooseberries will not tolerate. They do not need the copious quantities of compost that other soft fruit requires.
Gooseberries are generally propagated from one-year-old cuttings with at least five buds. These are taken in autumn and planted out in a nursery bed 30 cm apart, or where they are to grow on in rows 3 m apart and 1.25 metres between the bushes. Gooseberries are usually pruned to become an open vase on a short leg of about 30 cm. After the framework has been developed, pruning consists mainly of tipping back the leaders by about one third. All weak and competing shoots are removed. After about five years, one leader per year should be cut back hard and another trained in its place. Weeping varieties need to be cut back to an upward facing bud when tipping.
The berries are harvested for use in jellies and pies, but the home gardener will prefer to wait for them to ripen. There are red and yellow fruiting varieties. Harvest by cutting the fruit stem with secateurs or scissors. Wear stout gloves, the thorns are sharp. Yields vary between 2.5 and 4 kg of fruit per mature bush.
Blueberries grow well where summer nights are cool and the days warm and sunny. They need cold winters. They are sensitive to late frosts. They need acid soil and will not thrive where the pH is above 6.0. They prefer a pH between 4.5-5.0. Compost and mulch the soil well and maintain constant moisture. Drainage must be good.
Blueberries grow into tall bushes and are planted in rows 2.5-3 m apart with 1.5 m between plants. Perennial weeds must be eliminated before planting out. Trickle or flood irrigation is best as the fruit can split if the berries get wet.
Most varieties are self fertile, but cross-pollination increases yields and growing different varieties spreads the harvest.
Remove the flowers on bushes until they are three years old. No pruning is required until they are four years old, when the centre of the bush can be pruned out to create an open shape. Weak shoots should be removed at ground level. Propagation is by taking cuttings of last year's growth.
Maximum yield is attained by the eighth year and should be about 5 kg per bush. The fruit ripens in early summer and is hand picked. Roll the fruit off without squeezing. They will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge, but are best frozen for long storage. Birds are a serious pest and control measures are essential.