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How to grow your own berries

Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries make for the perfect hamper treat or healthy lorry snack for a day eventing, and growing your own soft fruit can be simple and rewarding.

Ripe berries, picked fresh and bursting with flavour, are the best of all  ‘cooks crops’ to grow: perfect for preserving in jams, jellies, compotes and dried fruit, not to mention baking and eating fresh, of course.

The term ‘soft fruit’ for strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries is an apt description of their potential for squishiness and the best reason to grow your own: quite simply, ripe fruit really doesn’t travel well so shop-bought will never be a patch on sun-warm, straight-from-the-plant berries. Plus, while shops stock fruits chosen primarily for commercial production rather than taste, gardeners have a wonderful range of varieties and gourmet flavours to choose from, heaven for creating delicious dishes to delight family and friends.  Home growing means a clear eco-conscience too: you can grow organically without using harmful chemicals and revel in a harvest that has zero food miles.

Growing berries for beginners

If you’re new to fruit growing, the easiest crops to grow and harvest are raspberries and blackberries, then strawberries, while blueberries are trickiest to grow. If speedy results for this year are your priority, go for strawberries and large well-grown blueberry bushes.

Soft fruits can be grown anywhere so long as conditions are right, from patios, terraces and town gardens to country acres. The smallest and most adaptable plants are strawberries: ideal for pots, window boxes and growing bags as well as in the ground. Blueberries form large bushes that can be grown in the ground or in large containers such as wooden half-barrels. With attractive flowers followed by colourful fruit – and fiery autumn leaf colour in the case of blueberries – both crops look as good as they taste.

Upwardly mobile blackberries and summer-fruiting raspberries need training on head-height supports like fences, trellis or posts-and-wires: in a small space, plant as edible boundaries or dividers within the garden. Autumn fruiting raspberries are self-supporting and bushier, best grown in clumps or rows.

Looking after your berries

The essentials to achieve decent crops are sun for at least half the day, shelter from strong winds and good, fertile soil. While it’s usually not possible to alter the amount of sun, the latter two can be amended to a certain extent: wind can be filtered with netting, fences or hedges and poor soil improved with plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost. Access to water is another important consideration: during dry spells while fruit is ‘plumping up’, giving plants a thorough drink can make all the difference to both size and quality. Though a word of warning: take care not to over-water, which ‘dilutes’ the flavour.

A worthy investment

Because fruit plants are susceptible to incurable virus diseases, it’s important to buy guaranteed virus-free plants from a reputable source – a specialist fruit nursery (most offer mail order) is ideal. Resist well-meant offers of plants from fellow gardeners and ignore cheap ones at local sales: rather like building a house on a firm foundation, it’s well worth investing in top quality plants. Then for years to come you’ll be able to relish the deep-down satisfaction of picking, eating and cooking a wealth of your own-grown fruit – an outstanding summer delight.

Now you can grow your own berries, why not pair them with some other feel-good foods to help you feel on top this season? Click here for some inspiration!

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