It’s a good time to plant soft fruit in the UK between November and February. Bare root stock are cheaper to buy than bushes, but can only be bought in the winter months, so as we approach the middle of January you might want to start thinking about which fruit to choose and where to plant them in your garden.
All fruit bushes like to be in full sun and are fairly easy to grow. Fertile soil with good drainage and sun is best, but many will grow in poor soil conditions. Soft fruits, or berries originated by growing on the edge of woodlands, so when growing your own berries considering these aspects will help your crop.
Gooseberries – image copyright OSU
There are many varieties of soft fruit to choose from, with gardeners growing a range from the most popular Blueberries, Gooseberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Red and Blackcurrants to Lingonberries and Tayberries.
Fruit cage image copyright pocketmags
Many British gardeners use the cottage garden style when tending fruit bushes, and create net cages over the plants to protect their crops from feasting birds. However, the forest garden style encourages us to create a more natural garden with layers of plants, (the majority of them edible) as they do in the wild.
During the Shift Bristol Permaculture course I visited Martin Crawford’s forest garden in Dartington, Devon with my group. It is a truly wonderful place, which he has been working on for the past 20 years. Whilst walking through you see Raspberries growing as they would in wilder conditions. Martin allows other vegetation to grow up around the Raspberries, which creates a natural cage. This helps to protect the berries from the eyes (and beaks) of prying birds, and no plastic netting is required. Of course you could have a fruit cage made from wood or metal with wire mesh.
Strawberries – image copyright Chosen Hill Farm, Somerset
Growing berries makes so much sense. They are expensive to buy in the shops during the summer months, and are often packaged in plastic boxes. With many berries being flown in from Europe and North America, it’s a better idea to grow your own. Eating a juicy berry that you have grown gives so much happiness and satisfaction.
Strawberry runners are different to fruit bushes and need to be planted during warm weather in early autumn or early spring. They can be grown in raised planters or in the ground. An option if you don’t wish to grow berries yourself is to go picking at a local farm during the summer months. This is always great fun for kids.
Blueberries need ericaceous compost as they are acid lovers, and also grow well in pots. So even if you have a small back yard you could grow these in pots and be happy with the outcome.
Raspberries – image copyright Donna Balzer
Raspberries like to roam, so give them plenty of space. They don’t like being waterlogged or being planted on chalky soil. Add a mulch of well-rotted manure when planting. For ‘Summer Fruiting Raspberries,’ in early summer pull out suckers from between rows if already planted, then after harvesting, cut back the fruited canes to ground level. Select the strongest canes from the current season and tie them to wire supports. These will fruit next summer. For ‘Autumn Fruiting Raspberries,’ cut back the old fruited canes from last season to ground level in February. New canes will start growing in the spring, with fruit being produced in the autumn.
Disease resistant varieties of soft fruit are always the best bet so that you make a good start from the outset.
Ashridge Nurseries, based in Somerset are a reputable company and offer a really good variety of soft fruit to buy online:
Image copyright Martin Crawford
To learn more about creating your own forest garden, read forest garden guru Martin Crawford’s short pdf for free online. You can take a guided tour of his forest garden in Devon – I fully recommend it. It is an incredible place to wander about and learn different methods and ideas for growing: