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Easy bush and bramble fruits

Black raspberriesIf the endless talk of pests and disease in the rest of The Holistic Orchard didn't scare you away, you probably felt the same relief I did when you hit the Berries chapter.  Not only do many brambles and bush fruits bear much sooner than trees, they also tend to be more resistant to problems, allowing you to make selections based on taste and regional location.

I've written extensively about brambles in Weekend Homesteader: February, and Phillips agrees with me on most points.  Blackberries and raspberries are easy and delicious --- select among the many varieties based first on your growing zone and you'll be golden.

BlueberriesBlueberries are tougher for those of us without highly acidic soil, but Phillips offers some fascinating holistic advice there.  First, he reminds us that the main issue with alkaline soil is that it makes iron less available to the blueberry roots, which tend to hunt for minerals right at the mulch/soil interface.  So adding greensand (rich in iron), acidifying sources of nitrogen (such as cottonseed meal), old nails, or sulfur (for fast acidification, in a pinch) right below the mulch is much more effective than struggling to change the pH of the whole rooting zone.  Lots of organic matter is very helpful long term too.  Another issue blueberries have with high pH is excess calcium blocking their taste for magnesium, which can be fixed by boosting levels of the latter.  Finally, if you don't live too far north, southern highbush blueberries or (even better) rabbiteye blueberries are less sensitive to high pH.

GooseberriesGooseberries and currants don't like high heat, but that same personality trait makes them some of the few fruits that will produce in the shade.  We chose gooseberries in our garden since we like fresh fruits much more than preserves, but jelly-eaters might prefer currants.  Disease is more likely to be a problem with these plants than with other small fruits, though, so select carefully to ensure you get both resistance and flavor.

Interestingly, Phillips doesn't throw in many unusual fruits, but does devote a whole section to elderberries.  I think this choice is due to his wife's profession (herbalism) and to elderberries' healing powers.  In our garden, wild elderberries come up everywhere, and I mostly root them out, but I have let one shrub grow up beside our biggest peach.  The bush attracts lots of pollinating insects, but the fruits didn't pass my raw taste test.

Elderberry flowersMeanwhile, I was sad to see that Phillips skipped grapes --- they're not technically berries, but I could have used some holistic advice about these fungus-prone fruits.  And I think strawberries merit a place even if they're not woody plants --- they certainly bear like crazy with few issues.

Which fruits did you wish had made the cut?  Do you find some of the small fruits listed more or less hardy than Phillips suggested?

I appreciate you all hanging in there through a mind-bending couple of months considering fruit trees.  Those of you who haven't been reading along might want to check out older posts about beginning a holistic orchard, techniques for designing a holistic orchard, orchard soil health, managing fungi in the orchard, disease-resistant pears, and no-spray stone fruits.

Meanwhile, the consensus is for Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal to be our next book club read.  We'll skip Thanksgiving week, then dive right into chapters 1 through 3 on November 28.  Salatin is bound to provoke lots of opinions, whether you agree with him or not, so be sure to find a copy so you can join in the discussion!

If The Holistic Orchard is too much for you, my paperback guides you toward choosing a few simple fruit plants to start with.   Now available in a book store near you!


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I'd like to read (at least, since probably I can't grow, with limited space) about successful cranberry growing, also maybe some of the prairie berries (or Scandinavian berries, which might be in the NW) like, maybe, cloudberries (?) and whortleberries.(also, only read of, never tasted!) Even tho these all need distinctive growing conditions, I wonder if anyone has adapted their conditions, to suit them?

btw, Anna--in your mention of raspberries and blackberries, what about the lovely black-raspberries (thimbleberries, to Yankees)?

Comment by adrianne@kitenet.net Wed Nov 14 15:21:42 2012

Mom --- Steve and Maxine tried the dryland cranberries that you see in seed catalogs now and then. After a few years, they pulled them out because they didn't really produce. I still think of trying them myself, but that does make me think twice.

Black raspberries are definitely in the raspberry group I talk about being easy.

Comment by anna Wed Nov 14 15:49:34 2012

I also would have liked to see more on other fruits - like the entire list in the last chapter that he does not have details on, and also strawberries and grapes. Maybe citrus too! A book like this on nut trees is another one I'd snap up.

General comments, I wish I'd had this book before I planted 80% of what I have :-) I would not have gotten dwarf apples, and different varieties of most of what I planted. I also would have liked to see a little less emphasis on spraying, and more on fruit tree guilds and other means of creating happy trees. Overall, I am glad to have this book. I'll be reading it over and over again!

BTW, got your book this week!!! It looks great, so excited to dig in!

Comment by De Thu Nov 15 08:51:41 2012

De --- You might enjoy some of Lee Reich's books to hear more about a wide range of other fruit (and nut) plants. Reich's advice is more conventional, but he will help you select some intriguing varieties and species Phillips left out.

I totally agree with you about wishing I'd read this book before I chose my trees. I can't believe I didn't select a single disease-resistant peach!

Thanks so much for getting my book! I really appreciate it!!

Comment by anna Thu Nov 15 09:35:15 2012

Cranberries - Same here ("here" being Japan, BTW)... we had a few cranberries planted in a corner, but they never produced enough berries to persuade us to plant more. Eventually rooted them out and used that space as a planting bed for hardwood cuttings.

Boysenberries - Cane berries are one of our favourite groups of fruits and we've been growing raspberries for a long time (mainly because they are so easy to grow, to the point of being a weed nuisance), but about 5 or 6 years ago a neighbour gave us some boysenberry seedlings and, after a slow start, they have become our new favourites. They are succulent, juicy and very tasty and, because the core of the fruit stays in the berry when picked, have a much better shelf life than fresh rasps. They stand up to the heat and high humidity of a Japanese summer somewhat better than the rasps, too. The down side is that boysenberries don't make such tasty jam as raspberries. So we still grow rasps, but mostly for jam making, while the boysenberries are the ones that go on top of the breakfast cereal on those early summer mornings (ah, bliss!).

Comment by John Sat Nov 17 20:09:25 2012
John --- That's quite a glowing endorsement of boysenberries! I've got one tiny little spot that I was thinking of filling with a different kind of raspberry this year, but maybe I'll have to try boysenberries....
Comment by anna Sat Nov 17 20:19:24 2012