SOFT FRUIT, GROUND PREPARATION, PLANTING & FRUIT CAGES
In most years in Glasgow, I expect to have various soft fruits in season for some five months from early June to early November. The season starts for me with Strawberries fruited under a cloche, then ordinary Strawberries and perpetual Strawberries, Tayberries, followed by Summer Raspberries, cultivated Blackberries, wild Brambles, and finishing off with Perpetual strawberries and Autumn Raspberries. These fruits I use fresh on my breakfast cereal or real oatmeal porridge, made without salt. If I can do it in Glasgow, there should be no reason why you cannot do it in most other parts of the UK by planting suitable varieties.
Soft fruits do well in all areas of Britain. For a longer cropping season, grow suitable
varieties to achieve this, e.g., Autumn raspberries, and perpetual strawberries,
as well as the usual Summer varieties. They are usually sold in bundles of 10 or
12 plants, which should be ample for a start.
Do try black currants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries which are all good for jams, jelly, ice cream, liqueurs. Two bushes of each should be enough for most families. For an intermediate taste between a Blackcurrant and a Gooseberry, Jostaberries (currant / gooseberry cross) which are not spiny, are a better choice than the Worcesterberry, which is spiny. Try Blueberries, Cranberries, and Lingonberries, if you already have damp, acid soil, or you can provide an acid soil in a container or sunken bed.
RECOMMENDED GROWING CONDITIONS.
Most soft fruit prefers a sunny aspect for at least for part of the day. If growing on a wall or fence, it is better to grow them against a West-facing wall rather than an East-facing wall, as early morning sun, can damage the fruit buds after a frosty night. For the same reason, try to avoid planting fruit in a frost hollow, where the cold air cannot flow away further downhill. Shelter from the wind will help the flowering and pollination by Bees and the ripening of the fruit. The ground should be well drained, with plenty of humus to retain moisture. In other words, boggy ground is not good, but they also do not like drying out particularly when the fruit is swelling and ripening. Go easy on the quick release fertilizer, as too much nitrogen leads to sappy growth and a lack of fruit. Far better to apply slow release fertilizer such as blood, fish and bone, in the early Autumn together with a sprinkling of Sulphate of Potash, will encourage flower buds. Be very careful when applying Potash to Strawberries, as it is so easy to burn the surface roots and damage the plant.
PLANTING YOUR SOFT FRUIT
Dig over the bed where the fruit is going to grow, incorporating humus and a sprinkling of a slow release fertilizer such as bone meal. Soak the root balls of both bare-rooted and container grown plants before planting. Ensure that the roots are gently teased out so that they get off to a good start. Dig a hole big enough to take the root ball and put the plant at the same depth as it was growing at before, before refilling the hole and firming with your boot all round. Water well and ensure that the ground does not dry out for the first year. Staking should not be necessary.
MAINTENANCE OF YOUR FRUIT BED.
This can be a problem once you have been growing your fruit bushes for some time. It is important to prevent grass and other weeds from taking the nutrients from fruit bushes and smothering low growing plants such as Strawberries, Blueberries and Cranberries. You do not want to have to go back and weed continuously around your fruit bushes. Apart from the difficulty of getting access between the plants when they have grown full size, you can damage the fruit and you can get scratched by the thorns. Hoeing between the plants can cause a lot of damage as the roots of many of the many of the soft fruit plants, are close to the surface. Some people spread mulch between the plants, but I never seem to have enough mulch to do that. Some people spread wood chips or bark over the ground, but this rots down in a year enabling weeds to grow again, and it also prevents the plants readily taking up Nitrogen. Probably the best long term solution is to plant the fruit bushes through a good quality porous ground cover fabric. End of the weed problem!!
Fruit cages or at the very least, covering the fruit bushes with plastic netting, will enable you to pick your own fruit at the peak of ripeness, without having a constant loosing battle with the birds. Picking your fruit when it is truly ripe, means it tastes better than any shop bought fruit which has to be picked unripe so that it can be transported to the shop. It also means that you will not need to add much sugar, if any, when eating Strawberries, or Raspberries. And you will not need to add as much sugar to your fruit when making it into puddings and pies.
You can spend a fortune buying ready made fruit cages ones, but you should be able to make your own fruit cage for a fraction of the price.
To keep the costs down, it is a good idea to group your Soft Fruit that will grow to a similar height of say about 1 to 2 m, together in the same area. I would consider grouping together, Blackcurrants, Redcurrants, Whitecurrants, Gooseberries, and Jostaberries.
You could separately group together, Blueberries, Lingonberries, and Cranberries and construct a lower height cage using similar principals.
Make the cage high enough so that you can almost stand upright while picking the fruit. Aim for a height of about or 2 m.
One suitable construction might be to use 2.5 m long treated posts about 5 x 10 cm section at about 2 m centres, driven 50 cm into the ground. These would be topped with old plastic topless containers attached to the posts with a large staple, not fully driven home to allow for a clothes line cable or fencing wire to be threaded through the staple. See photo. The cable gives extra support to the plastic netting.
The reason for this construction, is to prevent the plastic netting from snagging on any projections.
The sides, ends and top of this construction can be covered by large areas of plastic netting, which is relatively cheap. Plastic netting usually comes in widths of 5, 6 and 10 m, with different lengths available, sometimes available to cut off the roll. While it is possible to join lengths of netting together by threading a cable between the sheets of netting at the join, it is easier to buy the netting as a big enough sheet to cover the whole cage.
You also need to consider security of the netting where it meets the ground, as the birds will do everything they can to try and get into your cage and then they cannot get out. You can weight the edge of the netting down with stones, bricks or baulks of timber. My favourite method is to thread an old TV cable along the bottom edge of the netting. This helps to weight the netting down and with the addition of some bricks, completes the cage. To gain access to the cage, just lift up the netting at an edge.
After all the fruit has been gathered in, remember to roll and tie the netting back to one of the supporting wires. This will give you full access to carry out pruning. It will also prevent damage to your netting by the shear weight of wet snow lying on it during the Winter.
For Raspberries and Blackberries, a cage can be constructed using similar principles, but perhaps making use of the existing support posts and wires to support the netting.
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