The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Easy berries

Picking strawberriesIn the long run, an orchard provides the most fruit per hour of maintenance, but berries fill in the gap while you're waiting for your apple trees to produce.  Luckily, easy berry plants like strawberries and raspberries will start producing in a year or less.  Better yet, they're so easy to propagate that you'll soon have filled up every nook and cranny of your yard with edibles and will be begging neighbors to take extra plants off your hands.

Choosing your berries
The primary purpose of this week's exercise is to be harvesting your own fruit in a year or less.  As a result, I'm going to focus on the quickest bearing berries --- blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.  Each of these plants require only minimal to moderate care, with their differences detailed in the chart below.

USDA hardiness zones
Spacing (feet)
Best in southern climates and for people with lots of space
Raspberry, red
Best in northern climates; can fit into smaller spaces than other brambles
Raspberry, black
6.0-6.8 2-3
A good southern berry for those with less space, but not as productive as other brambles
You can tuck a few strawberry plants into even the smallest garden, but they take more care than the brambles

If you're feeling patient, you might want to select additional small fruits from the second chart below.  Although you may get a grape or blueberry the first or second year, these "advanced" species all require four or five years to reach their full potential.  I consider a blueberry patch a long term investment --- on par with planting a fruit tree --- while strawberries and raspberries can be snuck into the yard of a rental property.

USDA hardiness zones
Spacing (feet)
Blueberry, highbush
Best in northern climates; must have acidic soil; needs more than one variety for pollination
Blueberry, rabbiteye
7-9 4.5-5.5
Best in southern climates; must have acidic soil; needs more than one variety for pollination
Best in northern climates; some states don't allow you to plant certain varieties because of the white pine blister rust
Best in northern climates but can be planted a bit further south than currants; if you live in the south, try to find a cool microclimate
Bunch grapes hate hot, humid summers, so consider muscadines in the deep south
Kiwis come in male and female varieties --- be sure to plant at least one male for every eight females; only hardy kiwis can survive below zone 7

Weekend Homesteader paperbackFor the rest of this lunchtime series, I'll be focusing on care of the simplest berry varieties.  If you decide to plant any of the more "advanced" small fruits from the second chart, you'll need to do a bit of extra research on pruning and trellising.  But don't let that discourage you --- all of these small fruits are well within the reach of the backyard homesteader.

This week's lunchtime series is exerpted from Weekend Homesteader: February, which is available for 99 cents from Amazon's kindle store.  The ebook also includes a primer on choosing and caring for a backyard flock of chickens, information on buying in bulk, and tips for creating your own apprenticeship.  If you enjoy the book, please consider leaving me a review.

This post is part of our Easy Berries lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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How do you keep your chickens out of the berries? I have begun reading your Feb e-book, do you discuss that at all? Are there any benefits to a raised bed for strawberries?


Comment by Hearh Mon Jan 16 14:33:42 2012

I cover that more in the chicken section of the January ebook than in the berries section. Chickens wreak havoc in the garden, so I don't let them in! Our chickens get to free range in the winter if they're well-behaved, but in the summer they've always been in pastures or tractors.

Raised beds have a lot of pros and cons in general, so you have to decide whether they make sense for your garden. They're great for us because we have clayey soil that tends to get waterlogged, but my father has sandy soil and is in a hotter climate, so they would be a very bad idea for him. On the other hand, I recommend permanent beds to everyone since your growing area soil won't get compressed if you have designated aisles, and you can use less soil amendments to get more results if you don't have to treat the aisles.

Comment by anna Mon Jan 16 17:23:44 2012

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