Such a great day. I was lucky enough to share Saturday with my family and some wonderful friends. And then we rolled right into Sunday with a quiet, early morning of writing and tea (bliss), followed by reading a new book, lunch out at one of my favourite places, and then, the greenhouse. There may have been impulse purchases but really, is it a bad thing when we're talking about food plants?
I think the most splurgy splurge was the massive tomato that's a total cheater and going straight to the greenhouse. It came home with fruit on it! Yes, it's probably been given miracle gro and whatever else but really, at this time of year we're all so desperate for those sorts of things that I think it's an ok cheat! And, when I look at what I'm paying for organic tomatoes when I have a craving for them that I just have to satisfy... I think it's an ok trade off financially. I know it's not coming to my house organic but it won't be pesticided etc. now. So, not organic but probably less interfered with than a conventionally grown tomato at the grocery store. And frankly, I was eating chips this weekend so... Let's not think I have too much of a halo when it comes to being organic!
I did want to share with you my berry planting experience. I think people don't realize some key things about berry bush planting (I didn't until fairly recently) so, let's go through it step by step.
First of all, select your site carefully. Perhaps you're a bit like me (that is to say Scottish - I'm a MacDonald by birth) and, as my husband likes to remind me, that informs the basis of all accounting. For exmaple - I have a garden with some patches of poor soil (none really, dust and rocks) and some lush, rich places. I see that the wild raspberries, currants, etc all do just fine in these places so what do I do? In the past I did not pick the rich, lush soil for my plants because I'm always saving that for... I'm not sure what. Right now it looks like a healthy crop of cleavers in some of those beds to be honest with you. And then I would be surprised when, imagine this - my plants had the crummiest harvest ever or just gave up and died.
I realized last year that outside of my stinginess, I was basing this decision on flawed logic. First of all, the wild plants are meant to be where they are -in a few generations of keeping my poor plants alive they may have adapted to the conditions. But, second of all, even if that were to happen, they rarely give us much fruit. Now, what they do give is delicious and packed with flavour but not abundant or an easy harvest.
So, for a wonder, I have selected lovely sites which I am determined not to neglect watering-wise this year. They're right in the usual path of sprinklers etc.
So, we have good soil and water - off to a good start.
Berries (and fruit in general) usually want a bit to eat to get it started. The phosphorous is essential to forming the fruit and balancing out nitrogen. Lots of people think "manure, manure, manure" which is great but if you have too much nitrogen and not enough phosphorous, you will end up with lopsided soil that makes lovely leaves and no fruit.
You don't want to get carried away mind you, they do need some nitrogen (as well as a bit of potassium) but blueberries especially will usually get what they need if you soil is generally healthy. If it's a bit poor or played out, and you would rather not use bone meal, I'm told you can bury a banana peel with it and that will provide both potassium and phosphorous in small enough amounts. If you buy a commercial fertilizer, you would no longer be considered an "organic" grower. That might be just fine by you - like I'm fine with my tomato choice - but it may not. You now know and can make the call.
The other very, very, very important thing about most berries is that they want an acid soil.
So, we have our site and our soil and our amendments (more important in well used soil). Now let's get some plants.
First of all, your family may select a beautiful looking bush like this:
This blueberry is a bit leggy but that actually makes it perfect for where I wanted it to go. It's a happy, full of fruit and blooms little plant. It could stand to be a bit leafier and a bit bushier but it's early in the season and it's very healthy - not a speck of an unhappy leaf on it.
There is one major problem with this bush though. Can you spot it? That's right, it's the berries and blooms. The very thing a lot of us think we want when we buy plants are really not a good idea.
When the plant is fruiting, it's not worrying about establishing good roots. So, the general rule is that if you buy a plant that is fruiting, you pull off every bloom and fruit to let the root system dig in. My Scottishness won't allow that by any stretch so I will be leaving this baby in the pot until the fruiting is done, with a plan to plant it in the autumn.
This means (especially with a blueberry) that you must ensure a good supply of water to it. Pots dry out quickly as it is but blueberries are inclined to more moisture than not so I see twice a day watering for me though it will be worth it.
So, leaving our lovely blueberry behind, let's plant some raspberries and blackberries.
Raspberries and blackberries are a bit less fussy than the blueberries - especially when it comes to moisture. They want to be watered, of course, but they prefer a well drained spot and while they will do ok with some shade, they'd rather full sun (unless you're in an area that's much hotter than mine). My in-laws have always had the best raspberries of anyone I know - for production, flavour, and size. They have a fairly open site for theirs but lots of trees give some shade at various points throughout the day. It's not a huge patch but it keeps them in raspberries through the summer with enough to freeze and jam as well. I'm aiming for that.
So, we have four raspberries - so cute. One is a heavy fruiting, hardy June bearing one (with a second, August crop likely), one is a golden (and I think autumn bearing), and two are everbearing. I was going for an assortment. And the spot I picked as my raspberry patch has room for one more to climb up along the fence so... if I notice any gaps in my raspberries, I'll have a space to fill it. This is another long-known, recently-learned lesson. If you don't crowd everything in, they have room to grow and, you can even add in when needed.
So, this is a lovely hole for a berry plant - a chicken dug it earlier in the day. Sheesh! It's not really lovely - that was sarcasm. Right now I have a chicken/garden problem. Don't let anyone tell you chickens are all good in the garden -sometimes they do horrific damage.
Here is a much better hole. You can't see the amazing worms in that picture so here's a close up of them.
There were so many I killed a bunch by accident just getting the hole dug.
This is dirt that's been made over the last couple of years. It's the old manure (which includes straw and the hay they have rejected) from the goats on top of the previous sheep pen. It's pretty lush. When I need to add nitrogen to my soil (almost never, just ask my carrots), I just grab some of this stuff. It makes a great, slow release mulch.
Goat manure (as well as sheep and rabbit and, I think, cow) are all considered cool. That means, they won't burn the plants they are supposed to be helping. A lot of people still compost their manure because of the concern for pathogens. I figure I'm around them all of the time and handling them so... I'll take my chances. Most of it is old anyway but, your mileage may vary.
Anyway, back to the berries!
I like to really soak the plant in its pot and the hole before the meal goes in. I find the plants tend to come free much easier and, especially when it's been so dry here, a bit of moisture to start things off never goes amiss.
Add your bone meal (or banana peel, if you'd rather). I didn't leave that much in there - check what the instructions say.
A side note on bone meal - I'm not a fan of the whole industrial food production industry - and especially not of the industrial meat production. I do feel more comfortable using things like this than buying a commercially reared steak simply because if the animal is being killed, I hope every part of it will be put to good use and not wasted.
I also suspect strongly that they're not going to be killing cows just for their bones to make bone meal anytime soon.
So there's the raspberry, all tucked in and heavily mulched with old straw. I did the same thing for all of the berry bushes - except the blueberry.