Growing berries in your own back yard or garden can add lots of variety and flavor to your food choices. There are lots of different kinds of berries, and most are quite easy to grow and care for. You will find that berries are versatile as well as healthy. You can eat them fresh or freeze them for use in the off seasons, make jellies and preserves, juices and wines. We even sell our surplus berries as a small supplement to the family income.
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Recent studies have pointed to the health benefits of eating fresh berries. Raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries show promise to reduce effects of seasonal hay fever and sinus problems, blueberries are high in antioxidants, and all berries have high levels of vitamin C which is thought to help ward off colds. Not to mention the fact that fresh picked, home grown berries just taste really good, and of course growing your own will help reduce expenses at the grocery store.
Strawberries are probably the most common home grown berries. They are easy to grow and care for, they don't take up much space and are highly productive. Strawberries are a spring tradition at our house.
Looking for that first bloom, then the first ripe berry, becomes a race to see who gets to eat the first one of the year - it's a case of finders keepers... Sometimes its the birds that find the first few...but strawberries are so prolific, that the birds can get some, and there will still be enough for people too. Strawberries do require some special care, but mainly it involves bed preparation before planting, mowing them down in the fall and applying straw mulch as winter moves in.
Fresh picked juicy blackberries are a favorite cereal topping of
mine...so is cobbler...and Jelly, and blackberry wine is incredibly
good! What can I say - I LOVE blackberries.
Blackberries are easy to plant, and require very little care once they are established (after the first year). In fact, depending on the variety that you plant, they CAN become downright invasive. They do require some maintenance, but in most cases is minimal.
There are lots of varieties of blackberries, some thornless, and some with wicked hook-like thorns. My experience has been that thornless varieties often grow HUGE berries, but their flavor is kind of bland when compared to varieties with thorns. Berry canes with thorns generally have smaller, but far more intensely flavored berries than the thornless kinds.
Raspberries are the finicky sister to blackberries. They require a bit more specialized care and soil conditions than blackberries, but the extra care is well worth it, when you begin to pick and eat your first raspberries. Interesting thing about Raspberries, is that there are varieties of berries that are black, red, yellow and purple, and they are all good to eat. There are even "ever-bearing" varieties that produce a second crop in the fall.
Raspberries grow best when trained on a trellis, and kept pruned back. Raspberries like blackberries, grow fruit on second year canes, so don't cut new growth off in the fall. The second year canes die in the fall after they bear fruit, and these can be cut off and removed.
Fresh Blueberries are a late spring taste treat. Growing your own blueberries makes them taste even better. To add to their appeal, the bushes can be used as landscaping plants in flowerbeds, because of their beautiful shape, and fantastic fall foliage. Blueberries grow on woody bushes, as opposed to canes like blackberries and raspberries, or leafy plants like strawberries. Blueberry bushes are incredibly tough and cold resistant, and can live for years and years. They do require acidic soil conditions to be at their best.
Here in Southern Indiana, our soil is on a limestone base, so soil tends to be neutral to slightly alkaline. Blueberries do not thrive in our soil without amendments to neutralize and acidify it first. We got around that by planting our blueberries in bourbon barrels sawed in half, and filled with good quality potting soil. We keep the soil acidified by dumping our daily used coffee grounds in the barrels, and gently working it in to the top layers.
Gooseberries are an old time favorite. They are tart like rhubarb,and make an equally lip smacking pie. I've tried gooseberry wine once, and found it to be surprisingly good - much better than it sounds. Gooseberries grow on woody bushes with long straight sharp thorns.
They are very tough plants once established, and produce heavily almost every year. They require very little care after planting - just mulch to control weeds, and some trimming to maintain their shape. I have three bushes in a small hedge, and have picked as many as six gallons of berries from those small bushes in one season. Gooseberries are also one of our most popular cash crops. We have to hide away a few quarts for ourselves, because we always sell out everything we have, just from a tiny classified ad in the local newspaper.
Currants are close relatives to gooseberries, and grow much the same
way. Planting and care is similar as well. They are a bit more
susceptible to disease than gooseberries, but are still quite hardy and
nearly as prolific. Currants can be found in three colors -Black, red
and white. For the best flavor, I like the white ones best, then the
red. Black currants are an acquired taste that I have never really
acquired. That being said, some folks really like them.
Currants are used to make jellies and preserves, as well as additives in other wines. Currants are also dried and used in baking and cooking much the same way that raisins are used.
There are lots of reputable nurseries and plant farms to get good quality berry plants. Besides your local nurseries, plant stores, and big box stores, Here are a few mail order nurseries that I have either used myself, or have had good reports from friends on:
Growing berries at home can be a delicious and rewarding part of becoming more self sufficient. There are berry varieties for every climate, location and taste. Most berries are hardy, easily grown and highly productive. They contribute to your overall health in the form of getting exercise caring for and harvesting them, as well as their high nutritional value. If you think you'd like to try growing your own berries - don't hold back - give it a try. You'll be glad you did.