By Pauline Lloyd

Berries are on the whole fairly easy to grow and don’t seem to require very much attention once the bushes have been planted. If possible, plant several different kinds of edible berries to provide a continuous supply of health-giving berries from early summer until well into the autumn. Berries that grow particularly well in the UK climate include blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries and currants. It’s also possible to grow more unusual types of berries such as goji berries, blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries, although these require more specialised conditions and can be more difficult to grow. Most types of berries grow and fruit best when planted in a sunny position in a slightly acidic soil. However, some berries, for example raspberries, currants and gooseberries, will also tolerate partial shade.

Containerised fruit bushes can be purchased from garden centres and can be planted out at any time of year. Fruit canes are also available by mail order and in garden centres and are usually planted out some time between November and March depending on soil conditions.

Blackberries are easy to grow and prolific, growing well in most soils. They are self-fertile and if trained up a wall or fence occupy less space. Alternatively they can be trained up a wire and post system. Himalayan Giant is a very vigorous variety. However, if you don’t like thorns, then plant a thornless cultivated variety such as Oregon Thornless or Loch Maree (this variety can also be grown in a container). Blackberries crop from summer until late autumn and need to be grown in a sunny position to obtain the best flavour. Hybrid berries such as loganberry, tayberry and boysenberry are grown in a similar way.

Raspberries are another good berry crop to grow and usually bear heavily, producing reasonable yields even in cooler summers and in the north of Britain and they also crop well in partial shade. To extend the cropping season select a mixture of summer and autumn cropping varieties. September, Zeva, Allgold, Fallgold and Autumn Bliss are autumn-fruiting varieties that will grow without any support. Summer fruiting varieties of raspberries such as Glen Clova, Glen Moy, Glen Ample, Malling Jewel etc. are usually trained up a wire and post system. Yellow, red, orange, purple and black raspberries are available. Raspberries need a fertile soil, so add plenty of compost to the soil when planting out new canes. Then mulch them with compost and feed with a general fertiliser in early spring in each subsequent year. Don’t forget to water the canes well in the growing season. Raspberries are best netted, as blackbirds love the berries.

Strawberries Now what could be more delicious than some freshly picked, home-grown strawberries! Try to plant several different varieties and use cloches to extend the growing season. Suitable varieties include Cambridge Favourite, Alice, Florence and Irresistible, which fruit around June and July. Flamenco is an ever-bearing strawberry with a longer and later picking period, which also does well when grown in containers, and Aromel is late summer/autumn cropping strawberry. Strawberries give a quick return, producing their first crop earlier than most other soft fruits. They are also very easy to propagate. Simply peg down any runners that are produced in pots of compost and sever them from the parent plant when well rooted. Plant out the new plants either in early autumn, or in the following spring. Strawberries grow well in containers, barrels, hanging baskets, patio planters and growing bags, making them the ideal berry to grow if you don’t have much room. They like a lot of sun and a soil that has been enriched with plenty of compost. The ripe berries are loved by both birds and slugs.

Gooseberry bushes are very adaptable and will do well in most situations. Plant a selection of dessert and cooking varieties so that you will be able to harvest gooseberries from late spring through to late summer. Gooseberries can be white, green, yellow, or red according to the variety used. The most commonly available varieties include Invicta, Jubilee, Careless, Keepsake, Whinham’s Industry, Leveller, Martlett and Greenfinch. Although most commonly grown as a bush, it is also possible to grow gooseberries as a cordon if space is at a premium. Moisture can be retained by using a leaf mould mulch around the bush.

Blackcurrants are hardy shrubs that require a fair amount of space to grow well, although more compact varieties are now available. Ben Connan, Ben Alder and Ben Sarak are all high yielding, compact, modern varieties. Older varieties include Wellington XXX, Baldwin, Boskoop Giant, Blacksmith and Mailing Jet. As currants flower early they should not be planted in a position that is subject to late frosts. They like a highly fertile soil with plenty of added compost and a leaf mould mulch to retain moisture is also a good idea.

Red & White Currants are related to blackcurrants, but have a slightly different growing habit, so that they can be cultivated either as cordons or as bushes. When grown as a cordon, either on a wall or on a wire and post system, they occupy less space and are ideal for the small garden.

Other Berries include Blueberries, Bilberries, Cranberries, Lingonberries and Goji berries. Blueberries can be grown in large containers on the patio and should be planted in ericaceous compost and preferably placed in full sun. They produce sweetly scented creamy-white flowers in spring and have very attractive crimson leaves in autumn. The berries are very attractive to birds and so you may need to net. Three varieties of blueberries are available by mail order from T & M, producing berries from July to September. Cranberries and Lingonberries can also be grown in patio containers filled with ericaceous compost and are also very attractive to look at.

In order to continue producing a good yield of berries your fruit bushes will need to be pruned regularly and in the correct manner. Pruning techniques vary according to the type of soft fruit being grown and whether the plant is being grown as a bush or as a cordon. You really need to consult a good reference book to find out more about the subject – some suitable books which you may be able to order through your local library are listed below. Apart from pruning, you will probably also need to give your soft fruit bushes an annual feed of home-produced veganic compost and perhaps even use a good general fertiliser such as Chase Animal Free Fertiliser, which is available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue. Fruit bushes need watering well in dry conditions, especially in their first year after planting.

Uses

The best and easiest way to consume your berries is simply to pick them from the bush just before eating them. Berries that are especially suitable for eating raw include raspberries, strawberries and loganberries. Freshly picked berries could also be mixed in with other types of fruit for a fruit salad or made into fruit compotes or summer puddings. If you obtain more berries than you can eat straight away most berries can be frozen in containers for later use. Frozen berries can be used to make smoothies, or alternatively made into ice cream or fruit sorbet, either in a food processor or a juicer. Both fresh and frozen berries (e.g. gooseberries and blackberries) can be used as pie fillings and in fruit crumbles. Excess berries can also be used to make jams and fruit jellies. However, when making jam try to use a recipe that uses concentrated apple juice instead of sugar. Some berries such as goji berries can be dried in a dehydrator and stored in airtight jars for later use. These dried berries are very portable and make a nutritious snack when on the move.

Nutrition and health benefits

Brightly-coloured berries are a valuable component of a healthy diet. They are packed with nutrients and health-boosting substances such as polyphenol antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids. Scientific studies in cell lines and human epidemiological studies suggest that dietary polyphenols could have a role in protecting against cancers of the breast, pancreas, bladder and prostate gland, although how exactly they do this is still unknown. In addition, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants helping to protect cells from damage by free radicals. Some clinical trials have indicated that cranberry juice may help to prevent bacterial urinary tract infections.

Berries are a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre and folate. Raspberries are especially high in fibre and are amongst the top ranked ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) fruits, being high in polyphenol antioxidants such as ellagic acid, cyanidins, anthocyanins and quercetin. Most berries are high in vitamin C with goji berries, black currants and strawberries being a particularly good source of this vitamin. They are also high in potassium and supply some folate, magnesium, phosphorus, B vitamins, iron and calcium. As well as being nutritious and tasting delicious, berries are low in calories, with strawberries for example providing only 45 cal per cup (144g).

Suppliers

Thompson & Morgan’s Fruit Collection www.thompson-morgan.com

The Organic Gardening Catalogue www.organiccatalogue.com

Wilkinson’s Try looking in your local branch of Wilkinson’s in late winter/early spring as they usually sell one/two year old fruit bushes (black currant, red currant, gooseberry) for £1.00 or £2.00 each. These are excellent value and seem to grow and establish well. Editor’s Note: Raspberry canes often work out cheaper when purchased in batches of 10-12 from garden centres rather than by purchasing individual canes from Wilkinson’s.

Further Reading

Mr Smith’s Fruit Garden by Geoffrey Smith (BBC, 1980)

Growing Fruit by Mary Spiller (Penguin Books Ltd, 1980)

Food From Your Garden & Allotment (Reader’s Digest, 2008)

This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 23 (Summer 2009), p36. The original article had a table of ORAC values for different berries, but the web link to this now has different values, so we’ve removed this table.