In terms of flavor returned for effort expended, it's hard to beat local
berries. This is especially true for those which are more or less native
to this region. Strawberries, blackberries, and dewberries, as well as
several kinds of blueberries and raspberries, were growing widely in New
England when the Europeans invaded almost 400 years ago. Each of these
berries ripens in its turn to produce a nearly continuous supply from June
to October. Not only are these small fruits delicious, many of them
contain cancer-fighting compounds. They have lots of Vitamin C, potassium
and fiber, too. And when we grow and pick these berries near home, we save
energy, and connect directly to their seasonal nature.
We've been picking our strawberries over the past three weeks and have
enjoyed wonderful shortcakes and a scrumptious strawberry/rhubarb pie.
Although there are some tiny, very tasty wild strawberries here, we
cultivate the more well-known types developed in Europe by crossing wild
strawberries that grew in North America with those that were native to
South America. Strawberries require more work than other small fruits
because they are short-lived, are less able to compete with weeds and need
replanting every two or three years. The harvest season can be extended by
planting several different varieties. Sparkle, for example, is highly
Now that strawberries are waning, blackcap raspberries are beginning to
ripen here. These are the easiest to grow. The only effort required
really is to pick them. Each year, about this time, we find a bountiful
crop of these firm, flavorful berries. They'll be around for several
weeks. The birds like them, too. Fortunately, they spread blackcap
raspberry seeds everywhere along with their manure. Blackcaps are likely to
grow under trees, anywhere there is bare or disturbed ground. They thrive
in a bit of shade. These raspberries are easy to recognize because of
their gracefully-arching, purple canes. When their tips touch the ground,
they take root, which eventually creates a large patch dense enough to
discourage most weeds. I haven't yet found anything that improves the
yield of these plants other than just picking them. Every few years we
discover a new patch, just as an old one is dying out.
Wineberries are less common in my experience, but they too, mostly grow
wild. Ours just appeared in the garden. Wineberries are very sturdy,
extremely bristly, and have stems with a reddish hue. The berries start
out with a furry covering which opens to reveal a bright red, very sweet
berry which ripens over a shorter period than some of the other kinds.
Although it is fairly common to find red raspberries, blackberries and
blueberries growing wild, or escaped from a garden, the fruits from
cultivated varieties are often bigger and/or sweeter, so they're definitely
worth planting and caring for.
We've found that berries grow very well with just three kinds of care: a
thick mulch to keep the weeds down and build fertility; an annual pruning
to prevent too much growth; and of course, picking. We use leaves, compost
or straw to mulch all of these small fruits, except the blueberries which
prefer a thick layer of wood chips to create the required acidity.
Blueberries can be planted singly as attractive landscape plants and to
feed the birds, or arranged in groups for serious picking. Wild
blueberries grow on thin, rocky soils over much of this region. Cultivated
blueberries, developed early in this century, come in a number of varieties
which ripen from July to September. Blueberry patches should be protected
from the birds by netting.
Red raspberries are ripening now, too. The Heritage variety we started
with decades ago still produces berries in early summer and again for much
of the fall. We also enjoy a closely-related golden raspberry, which is
even sweeter than the red kind.
Blackberries are rampant growers. There are eight-foot-tall canes which
produce nearly one inch berries growing on our farm. I like to pick
blackberries when they are ripe enough that they begin to heat up in
August's sun. They're oh so sweet.
Raspberries and blackberries may benefit from growing along a fence or
trellis. They also make good barriers or hedges.
Look for these delicious berries in the wild and get ready to plant some
next spring. There's nothing quite like fresh, fully-ripe organic berries.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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