In The Berry Patch

I often get questions about the various berries we grow here, so I thought I would talk a bit about them today. When we bought Happy Acres back in 2007, it came with three mature blueberry bushes. Since then we have increased the blueberry planting, along the way replacing two of the original bushes, and added other fruits like blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries. My wife and I share the duties taking care of all these fruits. We are certainly not experts on growing berries, but have learned enough to keep us fairly well supplied over the years, and often enough to share with friends.

row of blueberry plants

row of blueberry plants

We now have a total of nine blueberry bushes planted, with six of them at bearing size and age. One plant was here when we arrived, so we don’t know the name of that variety. The ones we planted are Chandler, Elizabeth, Patriot, Nelson, Elliot and Blueray. The yield of these has steadily increased, and last year we harvested over fifty pounds of them in total. Actually, my wife harvested them, since she is in charge of that operation. Last year they began bearing on 6/12, and continued for almost eight weeks until the last harvest on 8/3. When they are bearing, we eat blueberries every day, and freeze the extras for use throughout the rest of the year. Chandler makes the biggest berries for us, and they have a nice flavor as well.

Chandler blueberries

Chandler blueberries from 2014

We planted them about five feet apart, in soil we amended with copious amounts of compost and peat moss. We mulch the blueberries annually with pine bark chips. I test the soil around them regularly with a pH meter, and add elemental sulfur as needed to lower the pH. I also fertilize the bushes using a blend made for acid loving plants. This year I am using Happy Frog Acid Loving (6-4-4) fertilizer. I split the total amount into two applications, one in early April and the second in June. The blueberries have been flowering for a couple of weeks now, with the flowers coming in clusters that will eventually turn into blueberries.

cluster of blueberry flowers

cluster of blueberry flowers

There were no blackberries here when we moved in, though I did dig up a few from my old place and move them here. We’ve tried a number of different blackberry varieties since we moved in, trying to find ones we like best. In that time we’ve grown Triple Crown, Apache, Arapaho, Navajo, Ouachita and Natchez. At my old place I grew some of the same ones, plus older varieties like Hull and Dirksen. After much taste-testing and comparing yields, we have settled on Apache and Natchez as our favorites. Both make large, sweet berries here.

Natchez blackberries from last year

Natchez blackberries from last year

Apache and Natchez are both varieties that have erect growing canes that don’t need trellising. We planted those about three feet apart, after amending the soil with some compost. During the first couple of years, the plants put out smaller canes that may flop over on the ground. In the below photo you can see a Natchez plant that was set out last year. The larger round canes grew last year, and will bear this years fruit up further on the cane. The new growth just coming out of the ground will grow into canes that will leaf out this year, overwinter, then bloom and bear fruit next year. In early spring I fertilize the blackberries, usually using Happy Frog Fruit and Flower (5-8-4). And no, I am not getting kickbacks from the Happy Frog makers at FoxFarm, but I do like their products and I can get them (almost) locally from Worm’s Way in Bloomington.

canes of one year old Natchez blackberry

canes of one year old Natchez blackberry

To help the canes branch out and bear more fruit, we will ‘tip’ the new canes by pinching out the terminal growth when they get to about 42-48 inches tall in summer. That will cause them to put out lateral shoots. More shoots mean more bearing wood next year and that means more berries. As the plants get older, the canes get bigger. Some of the Apache floricanes are almost an inch in diameter, like the one in the below photo, and stand up quite straight even under a full load of heavy blackberries. We mulch the blackberries too, usually with straw. In the below photo, the new growth coming out of the cane is what will flower this year and bear fruit. That whole cane will die back to the ground after fruiting, and we will remove it. OSU has a Fact Sheet that explains the whole pruning process in detail for erect blackberries. It’s really not that complicated once you get the hang of it.

one year old cane of mature Apache blackberry plant

one year old cane of mature Apache blackberry plant

Last year we ripped out some of the older blackberry varieties, to make room for gooseberries and rhubarb. While botanically speaking rhubarb is a vegetable, it is most commonly used like a fruit, and since it is perennial it really benefits from having a permanent location of its own away from our main vegetable garden. In our case, it made sense to share a spot with the berries. So the area we replanted wound up with four gooseberries and four rhubarb plants. The gooseberry varieties are Captivator, Invicta, Amish Red and Hinnomaki Red. I have grown gooseberries in the past, but never these varieties, so they are all new to me. We should get a taste of them this year, with full production in another year or two. Last year the Invicta plant didn’t make it through the summer, so I had to replace it this spring. We recently mulched those plants with a cypress bark mulch, and they got a helping of the Happy Frog 5-8-4 fertilizer.

young gooseberry plants

young gooseberry plants

I planted three Green Victoria and one Crimson Red rhubarb. I have a few plants in another location, and so far the Green Victoria has been the most productive. Rhubarb can be a bit tricky to grow in areas with hot summers like ours, so it may not like the sunny location we gave it. If so we will have to find a spot with a bit of shade. I do know of other local gardeners who grow it successfully, so it is not too difficult here. We should get some stalks to cut this year, with more in years to come. I’ve been fertilizing it with a blend higher in nitrogen, like the organic pelleted chicken manure I use called Chickity Doo Doo (5-3-2). It too is available locally, and I use it for a number of things.

one year old rhubarb plant

one year old rhubarb plant

It’s only the stalks that are edible on the rhubarb. The leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, and are not eaten. Supposedly the green stemmed varieties like Victoria are more productive, which has been the case here so far. Those in the below photo should be ready for cutting soon.

stalks are the edible part of rhubarb

stalks are the edible part of rhubarb

We also have a test planting of raspberries. I planted three varieties, two reds (Autumn Bliss and Caroline) plus one yellow one called Anne. All three of these bear on the new growth (primocanes) in late summer to early fall, with a few berries coming on the overwintered canes if you don’t cut them down in spring (or earlier). In my experience, raspberries do better in areas with cooler summers, but they do produce for us here. I have not trellised these yet, and if we decide to keep on growing them I will need to set up some sort of a support system. Until then they are sprawling, as unsupported raspberries will do. The below photo serves as a ‘before’ shot – before the plants are weeded and thinned. Hopefully it will look better after a bit of work, once the soil dries out a bit and I can get in there. After the weeding and thinning I will mulch them with straw. Raspberries spread quite readily and that’s what the planting looks like just two years after I set out a dozen skinny little plants.

raspberries before cleanup

raspberries before cleanup

We do have a couple of currant bushes in another area, one white variety (Primus) and one red (Cherry Red) that are just now getting big enough to bear a full crop. You can see in the below photo that they are loaded with little currants this year. They are experiments, and we will know more about them later after the harvest.

currants in early spring

currants in early spring

Perhaps conspicuously absent in my list of berries is the strawberry. I did grow them here briefly. In fact, the beds I made for them is where the raspberries are growing now. But in my opinion, strawberries are the most labor intensive of all the small fruits. It’s true, homegrown ones are tasty. But the beds need a fair amount of work to keep them productive and weed free, and the plants need to be replanted every two or three years.

It doesn’t help that when I lived on the farm I grew about 1/8th of an acre of them for sale. I picked them and sold them to neighbors and family, and ate my fill of them every day. That went on for six or seven years, and I guess I pretty much got tired of growing and harvesting strawberries during that time. So I don’t want to discourage anyone else, I just don’t want to grow them myself anymore. We have a lovely berry farm about a mile from the house and I am happy to buy their strawberries – already harvested!

I hope you have enjoyed a look at some of the berries we are growing here, and how we grow them. I’ll be back soon with more adventures here at Happy Acres.

Shared at Green Thumb Thursdays.

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16 Responses to In The Berry Patch

  1. Daphne says:

    I love Hinnomaki Red. It is my favorite of the gooseberries I grow. I put in three including that one, Invicta, and Trixia. I ended up pulling the Trixia and replacing it with another Hinnomaki Red as it is so much better. You can eat it straight out of hand. I probably wouldn’t do that with Invicta. It is much less sweet, but it is great for cooking.
    Daphne recently posted…Planting the ChardMy Profile

  2. Lisa says:

    Love reading your blog. It is so helpful especially since we are in the same zone.
    Lisa recently posted…P. Allen SmithMy Profile

  3. Those berries are HUGE! Amazing. They look like they were grown in Alaska. My brand new blueberry bushes nearly died in our unseasonable 90-degree heat wave back in February just as they were flowering. Two of them have recovered, after all of the leaves and flowers fell off, but the other two look pretty shot.
    Lou Murray’s Green World recently posted…We survived the heat wave–Happy St. Patrick’s DayMy Profile

    • Dave says:

      Getting the blueberries established was tricky for us too, and we lost a few bushes before they got established. I hope yours recover for you!

  4. Don Reeves says:

    Interesting comments on blackberries, of which I have a bout 100 canes in my suburban backyard. I have thorn less Natchez, Arapaho, Apache, Chester and Triple crown, as well. This selection gives our family and friends a constant supply of fresh blackberries for over a two month period. I prefer the Triple Crown for both production and taste, and I mulch them with free pine needles. We are trying a few plants of the new Prime-ark Freedom that produce on both primo canes and floricanes.
    We also have the thorn less Joan J raspberry, which is an “ever bearing” cane that already has green raspberries in late April, (and will produce best in the cooler months here in Tennessee) until the first frost in the Fall.

    • Dave says:

      With 100 canes I bet you do have lots of blackberries! The Triple Crown blackberries are good tasting for sure, and I grew them for many years both here and at my old place. We decided we had too many blackberries planted and wanted to make room for other things like the gooseberries and rhubarb. I will check out that Joan J raspberry. It’s hard to find raspberries that can stand up to our summer heat and humidity.

  5. Margaret says:

    What a timely post – I just received my blackberry & red raspberry order and am expecting the blueberries & yellow raspberries any time now. The details you have laid out will be a big help.

    I can’t believe that you get that many blueberries from only 9 bushes. I’m still not sure if I will be planting our bushes in the ground directly or building some shallow beds for them – I’m planning on planting them on our hilltop and have no idea if it is as rocky as the rest of our yard. I guess I’ll find out later today when I get the blackberry and raspberry canes in the ground.
    Margaret recently posted…A Little R & RMy Profile

  6. Susie says:

    What a wonderful variety of fruit you have … and those blackberries look amazing! I’m looking forward to trying my rhubarb finally; I planted it just in 2013 so haven’t let myself harvest any yet. And there are many raspberry bushes that were already here – I have no idea what type they are and have done a poor job of maintaining them to date. So that will be one of my focuses this year.
    Susie recently posted…Cucurbits Started and New Label MarkersMy Profile

  7. Ruth says:

    Thanks so much for all of your posts. I always learn so much from you. Purchased the Apache blackberry in the past per your suggestion & have been very pleased with it. Have you tried the Heritage raspberry? I have had great results with it producing over a long period & the berries taste wonderful. 🙂

    • Dave says:

      Hi Ruth – good to hear from you! I grew Heritage at my old place, though I don’t remember much about it. I will have to give it a try too. I planted Caroline and Autumn Bliss based on a recommendation from Grant Hartman. They have both done well, but they have spread together and now I can’t tell which is which!

  8. Margaret says:

    I just received my blackberry order and have a quick question about where to plant it that I’m hoping you can help with, Dave. I ordered an upright, thornless variety (Black Satin) and I understand that they can send out underground suckers so you should be careful where you plant them. But when I try to find out exactly how far out these suckers may grow, everywhere I have read says “many feet”, which isn’t very helpful – I mean, this could mean 5′ or 50′! So my question is, from your experience, how far away from the parent plants do these suckers usually come up – would a 10′ cushion from other plantings be good enough?
    Margaret recently posted…A Little R & RMy Profile

    • Dave says:

      I read about Black Satin, and it sounds like the Triple Crown I grew. Triple Crown would send out a few suckers, only a foot or two from the main plant. The canes would tip root though, by flopping over and rooting where they touched the ground. I’m guessing Black Satin will do the same. I think 10 feet will be ample spacing!

  9. lisa M says:

    Your berries look great! I’m so jealous of the blueberries. I want to grow some but the wait time always puts me off (meanwhile if I would just planted them when I first wanted them they’d be huge by now! lol)

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday! I hope you’ll join us again this week!

    ~Lisa
    lisa M recently posted…Green Thumb ThursdayMy Profile

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