Count on years of healthy, fresh fruit
We all know that fruit is good for us. There is something about mouthwatering fresh fruit that really hits the spot on a hot summer day. When you can pick it from your yard, it’s even better. If you are just getting started with gardening, you really should include perennial edibles in the mix. Not sure where to start? These three edibles – blueberry, strawberry and raspberry – are the easiest to grow and harvest.
There are several benefits to growing your own fruit. First, it will save you money. Fresh and frozen fruit prices continue to rise each season. Why not grow your own and freeze it for later? Next, growing your own gives you the ability to control pesticides and herbicides in the garden. Organic fruit costs no more to produce in the backyard garden than traditional fruit. Why not give them a try in your garden this year.
A healthy blueberry bush will cost you between $15 and $30 per bush. The flavor from growing your own can’t be beaten. With a little soil modification and winter protection, you can grow this healthy edible in almost any climate.
Blueberry Growing Conditions:
Blueberries need acidic soil to be happy. That means if you live in an area with alkaline soil you will have to create the conditions they love. Luckily it’s pretty easy to do. Add bark chips to the soil the plant is buried in, or if you are growing a blueberry bush in pots, add half chips to the potting soil. In both cases, mulch with bark chips or pine needles. I recently purchased this Monrovia Blueberry bush that is growing in a pot in my Texas garden.
The blueberry is a shallow, fibrous rooted plant with no root hairs. Therefore, blueberry roots must be kept moist. During the summer check young, succulent shoots on hot days. If the tips of the shoots droop or wilt the plants are in need of additional moisture. As a general rule, water your plants which are in the ground, twice a week (three times during hot, dry weather). On hot days, blueberry bushes grown in pots will need to be watered every day. See Home Fruit Production for more blueberry growing tips.
Blueberries need a certain number of chill hours to produce fruit. This year I purchased a bush with a low chill requirement of 150 hours. It’s named Bountiful Blue ® and is grown by Monrovia. You should be able to find it at a garden center near you or from the Monrovia website.
Given good growing conditions, expect the blueberry bush to yield about a pint of berries the third year after planting and up to 20 pints per bush by ten years. You will find that 3 to 6 plants will provide a good landscape setting and all the blueberry fruit the family can use.
Blueberries are an easy fruit to freeze – place cleaned berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and pop them into the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to freezer storage containers. Now you can remove just the right amount for your baking needs. Be aware, frozen blueberries to not thaw well. You will find they are best used for cooking, jam and syrup making. You can find instructions to dehydrate blueberries from Self-Reliant School and here’s a wonderful low sugar, no pectin blueberry preserve recipe from Melissa K. Norris
Strawberries have three different fruiting forms. Most areas of the country will have access to all three kinds.
- June bearers produce their entire crop at one time and are especially good for people who want to process big batches for fruit for canning or jam-making. Look for varieties like – Benton, Hood and Totem.
- Everbearers usually produce crops twice a year, in the summer and fall. They are good for families that want an almost continuous supply of fresh fruit for eating. Look for varieties like – Fort Laramie, Ozark Beauty and Quinault.
- Day Neutral strawberries have been developed to be unaffected by day length. These also produce a crop throughout the growing season and usually have smaller fruit than June bearers. These are great for gardeners whose first crop may be damaged by frost. The second crop will not be affected. Look for varieties like: Tristar and Selva
TIP: Store bare-root plants in moist paper towels in the refrigerator if you can’t plant them right away.
Strawberry Growing Conditions:
Plant bare-root strawberry starts in the fall or early spring. (However, you are often at the mercy of your local garden center for supplies, and it may be hard to get plants in the fall) Prepare the bed by adding in well-composted steer or poultry manure. Dig a trench and place the plant on top of a soil cone down the middle. Backfill, making sure all the roots are covered and that the top of the crown is not covered with soil.
After the soil warms up, mulch the area around the berries with straw or dried grass clippings. This will help retain moisture in the soil and give you cleaner berries at harvest time. Make sure you do not cover the crown of the plant.
Your berries are ready when they are totally red and when you pull gently on the berry it will separate easily from the stem.
To keep berries fresh, do not wash them until you are ready to use. Consider placing them in a different container so they are not crowded. Often, berries that are at the bottom of the pint will begin to mold without air circulation. You can expect fresh berries to last for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Raspberries are fairly easy to grow and are great to eat fresh. We can often be found packing in mouthfuls, right at the bush! They are expensive at the grocery, so if you can, grow them yourself. There are two kinds of raspberries – everbearing (which produce fruit in the fall) and regular bearing which will begin fruiting in early summer.
Raspberry Growing Conditions:
There is a bit of a learning curve when you learn to train the canes, but don’t let that deter you. There are excellent instructions on this Oregon State Extension publication. Raspberries grow best in hardiness zones 3 to 8 however you can find low-chill varieties that will grow in zones 9 and 10. Ask at your local garden center or check the Monrovia website.
Prepare the soil by adding compost. Make sure you have chosen a well-drained area; raspberries do not do well in clay soil. Set your bare-root plants in the ground in early spring, after the last frost, or in the fall when they are dormant. Make a trellis system to support the canes. This can be as simple as t-posts and wire. Keep consistent supplies of water using drip irrigation and mulch around the plant to retain moisture.
Canes bear fruit in the second growing season. Each bush will have canes that are producing fruit this year and new growth that will fruit next year. After this year’s harvest, the canes will die, and you cut them out before the nest growing season.
Fruit is ready when they are fully colored and detach easily from the plant. If you have to pull the fruit, it isn’t ripe. Place it in small containers and refrigerate immediately. In mature plantings, red and yellow raspberries produce 3 to 6 gallons of fruit per 25-foot row.
These tips come from Michigan State University; Download their Raspberry Storage pdf for more tips and recipes.
Avoid choosing bruised and damaged fruit.
- // Wash hands before and after handling fresh fruit and vegetables.
- // Wash fruit thoroughly under cool running water. Do not use soap.
- // Store fruit in the refrigerator at or below 41 °F.
- // Keep raspberries in a box with holes and cover with plastic wrap, or put in a plastic bag with holes.
- // Keep fruit away from raw meats and meat juices to prevent cross-contamination.
- // Use fresh berries within 1 to 2 days
These three easy to grow edibles – blueberry, strawberry and raspberry will be a wonderful addition to your food production garden. With a little effort, you can count on years of fresh, healthy fruit for your family.