Post category: Soft Fruit
Bushes can be planted when dormant or from pots at any time of year. The variety ‘Invicta’ is resistant to mildew. Although ‘Careless’ and ‘Leveller’ are grown too. Bushes should be spaced at least one and a half metres apart each way.
Gooseberries are pretty robust and tolerate most conditions quite well. Extreme exposure to wind would not be ideal. They tolerate some shade but prefer to be in full sunshine. Red and white currants are very similar and grown in the same way gooseberries, and not like blackcurrants, to which they are also related.
Good, fertile, well-drained but moisture-retentive, slightly acid soil is the ideal for soft fruit. Poor soil can be made fertile by applying organic manures and fertiliser. Limy soil is fine, as long as it is well-drained. Gooseberries tolerate medium-heavy soil well. The ground should be completely free of perennial weeds before planting.
Maintain the single stem clear of side-shoots for 25 centimetres. Allow the side-shoots to develop above this. Select four, five or six strong shoots well separated from each other. Allow these to grow out like the spokes of a wheel, keeping the centre open to prevent disease. These branches form the permanent branch framework.
Care after planting
Control weeds by timely hoeing. Apply 110 grams of general fertiliser per bush in February/March each year. If growth has been very vigorous, apply 55 grams of sulphate of potash instead, especially on limy soils.
Water newly-planted bushes if there is a prolonged dry spell. Some fruit will be produced two years after planting and full cropping is reached after five years. At that stage, each bush will yield between 4 – 8 kilos of fruit.
Gooseberries carry most of their fruit on short spurs on older wood. The same spurs flower and fruit year after year. Pruning of gooseberries aims to set up this pattern and maintain it. Having trained the bushes on a ‘leg’ with about five main branches, annual pruning involves removing about half of the young side shoots each year, and shortening the remainder to within about 7 centimetres of the main branches.
Prune away any low-hanging shoots. Annual pruning is done in winter. If the growth of young shoots is very vigorous, remove some of them and shorten the others, during June/July. This summer pruning helps to counteract vigorous growth.
Pests and diseases
Bullfinches eat the buds and can seriously reduce the crop. Watch out for damage in winter and use nets if necessary.
Caterpillars of gooseberry sawfly may eat all the leaves off the bushes. New leaves will appear and the damage will not be too severe if it occurs just once every few years. Losing the leaves every year weakens the bushes, and control will be necessary in this case. Greenflies may attack in large numbers and need to be controlled.
Gooseberry mildew attacks the leaves, shoots and fruit. The fruit becomes covered with a whitish or brownish fungus, but it can be used if wiped clean.
Gooseberry mildew on blackcurrant
Gooseberry cluster cup disease causes little orange spots on the leaves and fruit. It is little more than a curiosity except in areas near peatland and a spray of Dithane may be necessary, applied just before the flowers open.
Grey mould disease (Botrytis) occasionally attacks a few berries and can cause branches to die off. Affected branches should be pruned out.
The main criteria for selecting varieties of currants for the home garden are size and growth habit of bush; season of flowering and fruiting; reliability, size and quality of crop, and susceptibility or resistance to diseases and pests. ‘Ben Sarek’ is one of the best blackcurrants for the home garden. It has a very compact growth habit and produces heavy yields (4-5 kg\bush) of large juicy fruits. Because of its late flowering, it has considerable of frost tolerance and reliability of cropping. Ben Sarek is one to the few varieties that is fully resistant to mildew. Other good blackcurrant varieties include ‘Ben Lomand’, ‘Ben Connan’ and the very late flowering ‘Jet’, which is more suitable for frosty areas.
Blackcurrants prefer full sunshine but can tolerate a little shade for part of the day. Shelter must be provided. Frost is a danger for blackcurrants because they flower early. These are likely to be disappointing at elevations over 200 metres above sea level.
’Ben Lomond’ blackcurrants
Good, fertile, well-drained but moisture-retentive, slightly acid soil is the ideal for blackcurrants. Poor soil can be made fertile by applying organic manures and fertiliser. Limy soil is fine, as long as it is well-drained. Blackcurrants do well in a medium-heavy soil. The ground should be completely free of perennial weeds before planting.
Care after planting
Keep the ground free of weeds by hoeing for the first year. They dislike the soil disturbance that is inevitable with hoeing so hoe as lightly as possible or use mulches.
Each spring, feed blackcurrants with 70 grams of general fertiliser per square metre. This should be followed by a heavy dressing of well-rotted manure or compost, which helps to keep weeds down and conserves moisture in summer. Blackcurrants are heavy feeders.
Consider watering the bushes if the summer is very dry, especially in the early years. The first fruit is produced in the second season after planting, and full cropping is reached after five years. At this stage, each bush will produce 3 – 5 kilos of fruit.
Blackcurrants carry most of their fruit on young shoots. The shoots produced in one year carry flowers and fruit the second year. Pruning aims to provide a good supply of young shoots by removing a proportion of the older shoots each year. Carry out pruning after fruiting, although usually it is done in winter, being made easier by the absence of leaves.
Each year, prune out one quarter to one third of the number of shoots in the bush. Choose the older, darker-barked shoots to go. Prune them out as low down as possible. Annual pruning keeps the bushes to a reasonable size.
Pests and diseases
Big bud mite causes the buds to swell and take on a round shape. The mites feed inside the buds, which are usually ‘blind’. Virus disease is carried by the mites. Pick off and burn any swollen buds.
Greenflies cause curling and discoloration of leaves and reduced growth. They also spread the big bud mites from bush to bush. Control them if there is a bad attack.
Bullfinches eat the buds in winter and can cause serious damage. Use bits of polythene as scares; otherwise, use netting.
Leaf spot is a fungal disease causing small brown spots on the leaves, which, after a bad attack, fall off. It is worst in wet years, and in wet localities. Though not as common as it was, control will be necessary, if it appears.
Reversion is a serious virus disease which ends cropping. The leaf edges of affected plants become less toothed. Dig up and burn these plants.
Gooseberry mildew attacks the young leaves, and shoot tips of blackcurrants, but not the fruit. Prune out affected shoots when noticed.
Most raspberry varieties are summer-fruiting producing fruit on the canes of the previous year but, called primocane or autumn-fruiting varieties, fruit in August and September. For a long time ‘Malling Jewel’ was the most popular summer variety and it is still around. It is robust, tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions, resistant to virus diseases, and relatively early to crop in summer. Its lack of high yields is not a problem in a home garden. Raspberries do well in relatively cool climate and have been grown and bred in Scotland, many of the varieties having Glen in the name.
‘Glen Clova’ was a very famous variety but is largely superceded by ‘Glen Moy’, an early variety with large fruits of good flavour. ‘Glen Ample’ is a vigorous, relatively new variety, mid-season, with heavy yields of large fruit, mid-season. It is spine-free, not that the prickles of raspberry stems are problematic. ‘Leo’ is a late-fruiting, vigorous variety with large fruits of good flavour. ‘Autumn Bliss’ is the best autumn-fruiting raspberry with good yields. ‘Allgold’ is a yellow autumn variety. These can run out of weather in colder areas and in a cold wet autumn.
Raspberries prefer full sunshine but can tolerate a little shade for part of the day. Shelter must be provided because the canes will be damaged by rubbing against the support wires. Plant about 30 to 40 centimetres apart and space rows about two metres apart. Raspberries can be planted against a wall, fruit being carried facing away from the wall.
Raspberries are not particularly vulnerable to frost damage because they flower fairly late in spring and the flowers are well clear of the soil, but frost damage to the flowers can occur. Canes can be damaged too, at soil level, and frost pockets should be avoided.
Good, fertile, well-drained but moisture-retentive, slightly acid soil is the ideal for raspberries and other cane fruits. ‘Well-drained’ is the key characteristic because the shoots die back in water-logged soil or heavy soil.
Poor soil can be made fertile by applying organic manures and fertiliser. Limy soil is fine, as long as it is well-drained. The ground should be completely free of perennial weeds before planting.
Raspberry canes should be supported by posts and wire. Use 240 centimetres posts, driven 40 – 60 centimetres into the ground, and spaced 6 metres apart. Fix three wires to the posts, at 50 centimetres, 100 centimetres and 150 centimetres above ground level. The canes are tied to these wires using soft jute string.
Care after planting
If they are well cared for, raspberry plants will last twenty years or more. Weeds, especially perennials, must be controlled, by hoeing or digging out in the latter case.
Feed raspberry canes in March, with 30 grams of general fertiliser per metre of row. Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost in May, every year or every two years. If cane growth is poor because of poor soil, apply 10 grams of sulphate of ammonia to each metre of row in May.
Pick the fruit when ripe – over-ripe fruit falls off the plant. Most varieties are summer-fruiting. Some varieties, such as ‘Autumn Bliss’, fruit in September/October. Each 30 centimetres of raspberry row will give about 500 grams of fruit. There will be some fruit in the second year after planting and full cropping is reached after five years.
Pruning out the old canes
After fruiting, untie the canes that have fruited and cut them out at ground level. Remove the weakest of the new canes. Aim to have three or four good canes per 30 centimetres of row. Autumn fruiting types should be pruned in February. Tie in the new canes to the wires.
Pests and diseases
Greenflies attack the leaves and shoots, reducing yield and spreading virus disease. Control may be necessary.
Raspberry beetle grubs hatch from eggs laid on the young fruit and bore into the berries from the stem end. Control may be necessary.
Grey-mould (Botrytis) is the most serious, causing the ripening fruit to rot. Control is usually necessary, especially in wet seasons and high rainfall areas.
Grey mould disease on raspberries
Virus diseases cause mottling of foliage, stunting, and poor cropping – small fruit and blind fruit. Remove affected plants and burn them.
Cane blight, spur blight and cane spot cause canes or parts of canes to wither and die.
Die-back of canes without signs of disease can be due to unfavourable growing conditions. Raspberry rust causes orange spots on the undersides of the leaves. It does not do much harm. Although there is quite a list of possible diseases, raspberries are generally healthy.
Loganberries, blackberries, tayberries
These cane fruits tolerate poor soil and tough growing conditions quite well – growing even a north facing wall. Blackberries are too vigorous for a small garden and they tend to carry fruit into September and October when it can be spoiled by rain. Training, pruning and feeding, and pests and diseases, are the same as for raspberries.
Two established strawberry varieties are ‘Cambridge Favourite’ which has been around for decades, and ‘Elsanta’ which is more recent but well established too. ‘Cambridge Favourite’ is a robust plant with solid rounded fruit, while ‘Elsanta’ has smaller fruit of better flavour. Other varieties that might be offered include ‘Hapil’ with large fruits, ‘Honeoye’ with good flavour and heavy cropping and ‘Symphony’, which is a late cropper and extends the season.
Strawberries must have full sunshine and an open, airy position. Being low-growing, they can tolerate a reasonable level of wind exposure. Strawberry flowers are sometimes killed – turned black at the centre – by late frost, especially in inland areas and cold districts. Avoid planting in a frost pocket – a low lying area at the bottom of a slope.
Good, fertile, well-drained but moisture-retentive, slightly acid soil is the ideal for strawberries. It must be well-drained because the plants will suffer from fatal red core and crown rot diseases in water-logged soils.
Poor soil can be made improved by applying organic manures and fertiliser. Limy soil is fine, as long as it is well-drained. The ground should be completely free of perennial weeds before planting.
Well-rooted strawberry runner for planting
Plant healthy strawberry runners. If purchasing new stock, buy plants that are Department of Agriculture certified free from disease and pests. Space the plants about 35 – 45 centimetres apart, in rows about 75 centimetres apart. Plant them so that the crown – where the roots and leaves meet – is at soil surface level.
Care after planting
Strawberries must be kept free of weeds, with which they cannot compete. Hand weed around the plants and hoe the alleyways. Planting through a layer of black polythene is sometimes used to prevent weeds and keep the fruit clean.
Pick the fruit when it is ripe – not before – it will not ripen off the plant. After picking is finished, cut away all the leaves and unwanted runners. Remove any weeds that are present. At full cropping, each plant may give up to 500 grams of fruit.
Every spring apply 70 grams of general fertiliser per square metre. On heavy, limy soils, replace this with 35 grams of sulphate of potash per square metre, to prevent excessive leafiness.
Replanting should be carried out every second or third year. If the plants are left any longer, the fruit size gets smaller, and there is a likelihood of pest or disease build-up.
New plants can be planted in early autumn each year, either purchased or raised from runners. The runners should be pinned down in June to give strong plants to lift in August/September, planted 30cm apart and ripped out when they have given runners the following year. This is a way to keep a stock of young plants with large, quality fruit.
Pests and diseases
Greenflies usually appear in April or May and build up quickly. Apart from weakening the crop, they bring virus diseases that render the plants useless. Control will be necessary.
’Cambridge Vigour’ strawberries
Slugs and snails eat the ripe fruit and may destroy a big proportion of the crop in a wet year. Take precautions.
Birds, in particular blackbirds and thrushes, eat the ripe fruit. Netting is the only answer.
Mites, especially red spider mites, may stunt the crop. Control is not easy and it is best to destroy affected plants.
Eelworms get into the crowns and leaves and cause stunting. There is no cure, destroy affected plants. Vine weevil grubs bore into the crowns below soil level and cause reddening of leaves, poor growth and death of plants. Remove and burn plants affected by eelworms or vine weevils.
Grey mould of the fruit is the main disease. It is worst in a wet summer and on older plants where there is inadequate air movement. Improving air movement is the main method of control. Affected fruit should be removed to reduce spread. Spraying with systemic fungicide when the first flowers open is also possible but generally not carried out in a home garden.
Virus diseases of several kinds are spread by greenflies. Affected plants are stunted, show yellow markings and crop poorly, if at all. They should be removed and destroyed.
In recent years, red currants have been making something of a come-back. The flavour of red currants suits the trend in modern cookery towards tangy, less sugary dishes and using fresh fruits. Red currants are not as strong as blackcurrants, although they combine well. They have a soft winey taste with some dryness when eaten fresh. Most of the flavour is in the skins and the berries have a gelatinous pulp with relatively large pips. The structure of the berries breaks down in cooking and the taste becomes more uniform.
Red currants have been grown since the Middle Ages, derived from Ribes rubrum, a European and Asian species. It is related to blackcurrants and gooseberries, producing fruit that more closely resembles the former but a growth habit – without the thorns – of the latter. Red currants are very easy to grow and largely trouble-free. They can be grown as bushes or trained as cordons or espaliers and could be wall-grown if space is limited.
Cooking red currants
Red currants can be eaten raw or cooked. Often used with other summer fruits, or red fruits, such as raspberries and strawberries or blackcurrants in cooked dishes. Being tangy they can be used with both meat and fish dishes and desserts. They make excellent jelly. They are a very good source of Vitamin C with good amounts of iron and calcium, an excellent source of dietary fibre and contain potassium.
Growing red currants
Site and soil: Red currants are quite tolerant of site and soil conditions, but bushes heavily laden with fruit often split branches so some shelter is important. They do not need rich soil but not too dry or hungry soil either.
There are a few varieties but the one most likely to be encountered is ‘Red Lake’, sometimes no variety will be given, just ‘red currant’.
Dig over the ground and remove perennial weeds in advance of planting. One or two bushes will suffice most requirements, spaced up to two metres apart each way, or as little as one metre apart if wire or wall trained.
When the leaves colour and begin to fall, planting can be carried out using two-year old bushes. Bushes can be started off from cuttings in November too.
Normally the bushes are trained on a short ‘leg’ and the branches radiating like the spokes of a wheel, training five or six main branches into position. Trained plants will have a single stem for cordons, or spreading branches for espaliers and fans, tying them to shape as they grow.
For the first two or three years, pruning will be the shaping of the plant. Later, pruning will consist of cutting back side-growths off the main branches to about five centimetres, allowing the development of fruiting spurs along the main branches.
Pick the fruit wen ripe. It lasts well on the bush, but birds will take a lot of fruit, especially in dry weather. The fruit can be frozen or cooked and frozen.
There is a range of diseases and pests, including gooseberry sawfly caterpillars and greenflies, but generally the bushes escape fairly well.
Hybrid berries are crosses made between red raspberries and blackberries, and in some cases black raspberries which are grown in America. The best known of these is the loganberry which was bred by a Judge Logan in California in the 1880s from a red raspberry and a locl blackberry variety. The loganberry has long dark-red fruits, somewhat tart to taste, but good for jam and dessert. It ripens in stages which is good for continuity.
Since then lots of other crosses have been raised in an effort to improve flavour, size, colour, drought resistance or cold resistance. The boysenberry was raised by Rudolf Boysen, also in California, in the 1920s. This is quite sweet but can be a bit watery and it is drought resistant. The tayberry was bred by the Scottish Horticultural Research Institute as part of a breeding programme for cane fruits and released in 1979. The tayberry is like a large loganberry, good garden variety.
The tummelberry followed from the same breeding programme and it considered a better fruit with winter hardiness that the tayberry lacks and large bright red fruit of good flavour. There are others, less well known, such as youngberry, sunberry and silvanberry, unlikely to be available, while the ones mentioned are available though some searching might be necessary.
Cooking with hybrid berries
The hyrbid berries can be eaten fresh, although some are a little sour to taste, and they are very good for preserves, baking and juicing. They can be used with desserts, especially icecream and yogurt, as fresh fruit, purée, and coulis, and are superb for sorbets. They are an excellent source of Vitamin C with useful amounts of other vitamins and minerals, especially iron and potassium. These fruits contain significant amounts of tannins and antioxidants and act as anti-cancer agents.
Growing hybrid berries
Site and soil: Hybrid berries are generally vigorous and need good rich soil to crop well. However, they can tolerate less-than-ideal conditions and some shade too, especially loganberry. They are perfectly happy on a fence or wall and can use such space very effectively.
Varieties: Loganberry, sometimes offered as a thornless variety, ‘LY 654′, fruits from late July to September; Tummelberry and Tayberry are somewhat earlier. There is a tayberry variety called ‘Buckingham’ which is thornless. Usually one plant is enough because they need three or four metres of wall space.
Planting: Plant in the dormant season ideally, or at any time because these plants are usually available in pots. Prepare the ground well, digging in lots of well-rotted organic material over an are of about one square metre.
Training: The plants are more flexible than raspberries, more like blackberries with long shoots. They can be wall trained, or trained on wires supported by posts, wires at 60cm, 100cm and 140cm above soil. The plants fruit on the previous year’s canes, so the young canes must be tied out of the way while the older canes fruit. This can be done in two ways. One way is to train the fruiting canes along the lower wires and tie the young canes up the centre and along the top wire, or the fruiting canes can be tied along the top two wires and the young canes bent down and loosely tied to the bottom wire.
Pruning: Pruning is done after fruiting in autumn. It consists of cutting away all the fruited shoots and tying in the young shoots in their place. The easiest way to do this is to wrap the new canes around the support wire, rope-like, and tie them to hold them in place. The fruiting side shoots will push out from these shoots.
Watering and feeding: The hybrid berries like plenty of humus and can be top-dressed with compost or well-rotted manure each winter. A shake of fruit fertiliser or general fertiliser in spring will produce heavier crops. Watering is not often necessary but the plants will respond to watering if the weather is very dry in late summer as cropping begins.
Picking: Hybrid are picked as they ripen and they have an advantage in this being spread over several weeks, due to the blackberry parentage. They can be picked and used fresh or frozen fresh. They freeze very well or purée or juice can also be frozen.
Troubles: Generally speaking, the hybrid berries are healthy and robust, not nearly as prone to pests and diseases as raspberries.
To judge by the name, one might think that the Cape gooseberry was originally from the Cape of South Africa, but it is not.It is a South American native, a member of the potato family that is endemic to that continent, related to tomato, sweet pepper, aubergine and chilli pepper, and the less well-known tomatillo and huckleberry. The botanical name is Physalis pruinosa or Physalis peruviana var. edulis, it has had the name ‘Peruvian ground cherry’ and ‘golden berry’ is another common name. The Cape gooseberry, contained within a papery Chinese lantern, is distinctly tomato-like in shape and it is about the size of a cherry tomato. Once you know of its family link with the tomato, you will easily discern the tomato-like acidic tang of the fruit. It is, of course, a fruit, just like the tomato, although it is used mostly as a vegetable, much as the tomato is. It can even be sundried. It has arrived at a food in Europe and in Ireland in relatively recent times, and its use has been largely restricted to a role as garnish on desserts. It is a much more versatile food that that. It is relatively easy to grow successfully, although it has been very little grown in gardens.
Cooking cape gooseberries
Though relatively new, cape gooseberries come from a distinguished family of vegetables, all of which are actually fruits. It could in theory be used in any way that cherry tomatoes are used, fresh or cooked, in salads and stir-fries, even in ice-cream and jam, and very tasty dipped in chocolate. They generally used along with the established vegetables, offering a change of flavour. Cape gooseberry is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A precursor, and a good source of vitamin B-complex with some fibre and calcium.
Growing Cape gooseberry
Site and soil: Cape gooseberry, like tomatoes, is not hardy, although some kinds are perhaps hardier than tomato plants. It is grown like tomatoes, either under glass or polythene or in a sunny spot in really good fertile soil.
Varieties: There are no named varieties, as such, it is usually just sold as Cape gooseberry or golden berry. There can be some variation between seed sources, some are tall, other more spreading.
Sowing: Sow the seeds in early to Mid-March, just like tomatoes for indoor or outdoor growing. Sow three seeds to a small pot and pinch out the weakest, leaving one.
Growing on: A greenhouse is not essential but will generally be used. The young plants can be potted as necessary into a larger pot and kept watered and occasionally given some liquid feed, but not grown too soft or lush either, again like tomatoes. If grown to cropping in a greenhouse, they should be planted ut as soon as they are about fifteen centimetres tall.
Transplanting: The young plants can be hardened off and planted out in late May or early June, or a couple of weeks earlier in a mild garden. Choose a sheltered spot.
Watering: Although the cape gooseberry is a resilient plant, tolerant of drought, it benefits from watering in a dry spell. It is a fast grower and can make a very big bushy plant.
Picking: The chinese lantern covers turn papery when the fruit is fully ripe but the fruits can be used before that happens. When they change colour to yellow-orange, they are ripe. Some people like them a little under-ripe, when the taste is more tart. The first fruits can be picked as soon as they are ready as others will continue to ripen and at the end of the season, the remainder can be picked and stored in their papery covers for a couple of months.
Blueberries have burst onto the home gardening scene in recent years and have gained a reputation with nutritionists as a food with significant health benefits. The crop is easy to grow, if some special requirements are met.
Blueberries are also known as high-bush blueberries to differentiate them from low-bush blueberries. Both kinds, different species, are grown in North America, where they are native, but only high-bush blueberries are grown in Europe. The high-bush types are capable, in ideal conditions of reaching to well over two metres tall, but are generally pruned to keep them smaller and for ease of picking.
Blueberries are related to the wild fraochan or bilberries that grow on moory soils on bogs and mountains in many parts of the country. The fruits of the blueberry are similar in appearance and taste to the wild fruit but much bigger and usually sweeter. Most people are very familiar with blueberries because they are now widely available as imported fruit form America and other countries. There are some commercially grown crops in Ireland and the fruit from these is also supplied to fresh fruit outlets.
The key to success with blueberries is to provide the acidic soil conditions that they need. The soil acidity needs to be below pH5. This is only available in very acidic soils such as those derived from bogland and acid soils in Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow, Waterford, parts of Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, and across Northern Ireland. But even in those areas, soil that has had lime added for vegetables to grow at pH7 and other fruit crops to grow at their preferred pH6.5 will be too limy. Most of the soils in the midlands are naturally too limy. The test would be if the hydrangeas in a garden are blue, then blueberries can be grown in the open soil. If the hydrangeas in the area are not blue, it will be essential to test the soil using a pH test-kit, and these are available from garden centres and they are adequately accurate.
If the soil acidity is suitable, the plants can be grown in the open ground and this is the best way to grow them because they can root out properly and take up the nutrients and water they need. If the soil is too limy, it will be necessary to grow the crop in large tubs or pots, or in polythene-lined pits. The bigger these containers can be the better to encourage plenty of good growth. Plants grown in limy soil suffer nutrient deficiencies and the foliage turns yellow. In soils that are border-line, heavy mulches of acidic material, such as pine or spruce needles can help to acidify the soil and sulphate of iron can be used as a dressing to reduce pH and to supply iron to the growing plants.
Blueberries are supplied in pots and can be planted at any time. The traditional, and best, planting time is the autumn when the leaves have fallen. The plants usually need about one metre or more apart. Although the crop likes moist soil and must have moisture through the summer months, it also needs soil that does not become waterlogged in winter. So choose a spot that is not prone to waterlogging. Frost in spring can cause damage to the unfolding buds and severe frost can damage the bark of the stems and to avoid this, plant blueberries higher up a slope rather than at the bottom where frosty air can gather.
There are lots of varieties but the most commonly available are likely to be ‘Earliblue’, ‘Coville’ or ‘Bluecrop’. In many cases, the plants are not named at all, but it is a fair assumption that those made available are suitable. Blueberries do not carry fruit until the bushes are four years old and it is usual to plant two- or three-year old bushes to fruit the following year or perhaps the year after if they are small to start with. The bushes are self-fertile and one bush can be grown on its own, but two varieties provide better pollination and fruit set.
Care of blueberries
Blueberries are surface-rooting plants and do not compete well with heavy weed cover. Hoeing or any form of cultivation tends to damage the feeding roots and weed control is best achieved by using a heavy mulch, ideally of acidic material such as pine or spruce needles or any conifer, and chipped bark mulch can also be used. The mulch can be as much as ten centimetres in depth and topped up every year or two. The ground must be weed-free before mulching and the mulch will help to keep the soil moist during the summer months.
The crop needs adequate moisture when in growth and especially coming up to fruit swelling and ripening. Normal rainfall is usually adequate across most of the country, except for the drier eastern areas, but in dry spells of more than one week the plants will need heavy watering, at least twenty-five litres per square metre. The water used must be lime-free, which may mean using rainwater in limy areas. Watering is the key to success in containers or pits and must not be neglected.
Blueberries also need feeding each year to encourage the new growth on which the berries are carried. The bushes produce new shoots on which flowering twigs are carried after one or two years. The crop needs quite a bit of nitrogen and this is best supplied as sulphate of ammonia. It also needs sulphate of potash for good fruiting. About 15 to 30 grams of each are applied each spring over the surface mulch.
Pruning is not needed for the first three years, except to shape the bushes a little. After that, some of the older shoots can be removed at, or close to, ground level, in the same way as for blackcurrants to encourage new shoots from the base. About one in four shoots should be removed in this manner each year to maintain a rotation of new wood, which carries the biggest fruits, and to keep the bushes to a neat size.
The fruits normally begin to ripen in late July and August, depending somewhat on the weather earlier. The crops opens its white bell-shaped flowers in succession in late spring and the fruits also form in succession. The first flowers produced fruits that ripen first and these can be ripe while the later ones are still quite small and green. The ability of the late fruits to ripen depends on the weather and they can drop off without ripening if the weather is poor.
The first fruits are the largest and juiciest. Ripe fruit is dark-blue with a waxy bloom and it is usually ripe about one week after it turns colour. Prematurely picked fruit does not ripen properly and can be very insipid. The plants need to be picked over regularly during the fruit ripening period. Excess fruit can be held in a refrigerator for up to one month, or frozen or pulped and frozen as pulp or juice.
Pests and diseases
Blueberries are generally free of pests and diseases. The main pest is birds which are very fond of the ripe fruit and it may be necessary to net down the bushes to keep them out. The only disease that occasionally arises, especially in a wet summer, is grey mould disease, but if the bushes are planted in an open, but reasonably well-sheltered spot, this should not be a major problem. If rotting is a constant problem, reduce the nitrogen feeding somewhat to toughen the fruit.