Friday, May 28, 2010

One Berry, Two Berry: An Introduction to Growing Raspberries and Strawberries

I love summer partly because of my crop of berries.  Growing your own berries has one drawback:  you run the risk of getting horribly spoiled.  For a few glorious weeks, there are berries to be picked just about every day. And not just a few - bowlfuls of them.  Once you've had homegrown berries, it's hard to buy them at the store.  Kind of like how it's hard to buy tomatoes once you've tasted a homegrown one.

The great thing about growing berries is that they are easy to grow.  All you need is the right location, enough water, and a little (and not even that much) TLC.  There are all sorts of berries to grow (I'm planting blackberries this year), but you need to check what grows in your area.  For example, as much I wish and as hard as I could try, I can't grow blueberries in my yard because the soil in my state is too alkaline.  Do your research and ask someone helpful at a local nursery (and not a big-box store nursery - I've seen a bunch of plants at my local big-box store that can't grow in my area, including blueberries).  In this post, I will discuss the two berries I grow: strawberries and raspberries.

Last year was my first year growing strawberries and I got lots of berries like the one above.  Amazing, huge, ridiculously delicious strawberries.  I didn't really know what I was doing - I just bought a few everbearing ones (more on varieties later), and planted them. However, I've learned a few things since then:
  • There are two types of strawberries:  June-bearing and everbearing.  There are pros and cons to each.  June-bearing strawberries produce only one crop a year, usually in the early summer (hence the name) or in the late summer.  From what I've read, June-bearing strawberries are the highest quality ones you can grow. The nice thing about June-bearing strawberries is that you get a lot all at once, ideal for making jam. Drawback: they're only around for a little while. Everbearing strawberries have a much longer season. They start to produce fruit in early summer and then continue through the fall. That's a big pro: throughout the season last year, we always had strawberries from the garden to enjoy. Not a ton, mind you, but those big strawberries were better than any at the store. Anyway, while I loved my everbearing strawberries, I think I might plant a box of June-bearing ones solely for jam. 
  • Strawberries only produce for a few seasons.  The strawberry plants you buy this year at the nursery will only produce fruit for about three seasons.  But, like other berries, strawberries reproduce by sending out runners.  Get rid of the older plants every few years so your boxes/beds don't get too crowded. Crowding leads to disease, less fruit, and lower-quality strawberries.
  • As mentioned above, most varieties of strawberries reproduce by sending out runners. That's why it's good to keep them contained in a separate box from the rest of your garden. Everbearing strawberries put out fewer runners than June-bearers.  If you pinch off the runners, your plants will be bigger and you'll have smaller yields of big berries; let the offsets grow 7-10 inches apart, you'll get heavy yields of smaller strawberries.  I think my strawberries were so big last year because the plants were new and there weren't lots of runners.  It's all about preference really.  Also, runners can be transplanted to other parts of your garden or to new boxes; see this link for a detailed how-to.
  • Pinching off early blossoms on your strawberries is good for your plants. My mom told me to this and I didn't understand why, but my plants produced great strawberries. It's hard to pick off those little flowers in the spring (look back a couple posts - remember, "kill your darlings"), but your strawberries will be better for it.
  • I grow my strawberries in a 4 ft. x 4 in. box (Square Foot Gardening style), but you can grow strawberries anywhere. A sunny spot in a vegetable garden or flowerbed works.  Or you can put them in pots or boxes on a sunny patio.  They key is to have a place that is sunny, with good drainage, and where it can get watered frequently. 

I love my strawberry plants, but I loooove my raspberry bushes. What started as two plants in the back corner of my yard has grown into many, many plants stretching across the fence.  Every year, my raspberry section of the yard gets bigger and bigger.  And it produces so much.  Like I mentioned earlier in the post, for a few weeks, me and my little guy head out and pick at least a cereal bowl-ful of them.  Half of them usually don't get back to the house, but there's still plenty to spare for oatmeal, smoothies, and even jam (raspberry jam is my absolute favorite). 

I don't have a ton of information on raspberries except my own testimonial that they're super easy to grow.  Like with strawberries, you just need a place with full sun and regular water.  According to my trusty Sunset Western Garden Book (highly recommended if you live in the western half of the States), raspberries grow from perennial roots and send out biennial canes.  Raspberry canes grow to full size in their first year and produce berries in the second year. Like strawberries, there are everbearing and June-bearing types. I believe mine are the one-crop kind and I love them. Whatever berries I don't use, I freeze. 

I honestly haven't done a lot with my raspberry shrubs.  When the canes are dead, I cut them back.  That's about it. I wish I could even tell you the type I have, but I can't remember. I just sort of bought them on a whim and planted them in a corner. I've had fruit from them for about three years, so I must be doing something right!

Berries are so tasty and so good for you, but they're expensive.  A tiny container of them can get pretty pricey - for the cost of a container or two of berries, you could get yourself a plant that will produce and produce. Personally, I think they're a must for any garden. You don't have to have a green thumb. Just find a spot in your yard or on your patio.  Pretty soon, you'll be spoiled just like me.

1 comment:

Nisha said...

We have strawberry plants and this post was really helpful! We would love to plant raspberry bushes, we just need to decide where.

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