So we’ve got our salad crops on the go and plans in place for that warming winter veg, all we need now is some home-grown fruit for delicious summer puds, jams and jellies, with some left over to stock up the freezer. There’s such a range of varieties now to suit any size of garden, terrace or even balcony but which are the best to grow and how should you go about it?
You’ve got Laura again today, I clearly passed muster on the winter veg front so Elaine has let me loose on summer fruits. It’s a huge topic so let’s cut to the chase…
1. Fruit bushes and canes
If you are after maximising the produce from the space available I would definitely prioritise fruit that tastes good fresh but also freezes well. Nutritionists now tell us that there is just as much goodness in frozen fruit and veg as eating it fresh, and it’s far better for the planet to be eating lovely summer fruits that have been picked from your own garden and frozen quickly rather than tasteless underripe produce flown in from abroad during winter months.
Raspberries, currants (black, red and white – they crop so heavily you probably only need one bush of each) and blackberries all score highly here.
Raspberries excel in cool summers and grow particularly well in Scotland. They’re like hens’ teeth to source this year given the rush of orders. But if you do get your hands on any, try to secure at least 10 canes to give you a decent crop. You’re best planting them in a short row, so you can arrange posts and wires down either side to tie them into to stop them flopping. We find the so-called autumn fruiting (actually late summer) kind the most productive, and easier to manage as you simply cut the lot to the ground each February.
Currant bushes need to be a good four foot apart.
You can be more inventive with cultivated blackberries as they’re from the bramble family, tough as old boots and happy to live life just scrambling over other things. They are also very attractive so don’t be afraid to mix them in with other more ornamental stuff (see our feature pic – blackberry ‘Oregon Thornless’ growing happily up a wall amongst other fruit).
All these fruit bushes and canes are going to take a while to settle in and you may not get a great crop in the first year, but c’mon, you’re proper grow-your-own gardeners now and these are all good investments for the future.
2. Growing fruit in pots
You can grow almost any sort of fruit in large pots nowadays, but they MUST be the right type. Fruit growers have selected varieties that are either genetically programmed to grow more compactly, or graft normal-sized plants onto another much smaller variety of rootstock.
So look out for the words ‘dwarf’ or ‘patio’ in front of the name and you know it’s suitable to grow in a pot. Sensing this could be an easy option, my sister Caroline (not the best gardener ever), has her nose pressed to the window waiting for Amazon to deliver her ‘Ruby Beauty’ patio raspberry bush (from suppliers Primrose). We’ll no doubt find out what her attempts look like on our Facebook page later this year:/
Blueberries are great in pots – you need at least two, as they prefer to cross pollinate, and like acid soil so use ‘ericaceous’ compost, and finally have a plan to deter your friendly garden blackbirds around fruiting time as they love them.
3. Strawberries versus rhubarb
You could have a bash at strawberries either in pots or in the open ground but here’s the thing, they don’t get properly into their stride until year three, after which they’re over and you’ve to rip them out and start again. However, year two can be good and year three, fantastic! There’s nothing like the smell and taste of a warm strawberry plucked straight from the plant.
A much more reliable option would be a patch of rhubarb, which you would be hard-pressed to get wrong, and gives a long season of sophisticated sweetness. If you had a kind neighbour who had an established clump you could ask him/her to dig up a section and hang it on your garden gate in a plastic bag. Shove this in a sunny corner and water it in well. Apart from the odd shovel of compost or manure they require virtually no maintenance and will be providing you with sticks of rhubarb from next spring and then for the next 20 springs onwards.
4. Can you grow fruit from seeds?
Well it’s a mission. They rarely come ‘true’ from seed and you can waste several years growing on an inferior plant, but I do have a suggestion that has the added attraction of Elaine’s disapproval (being somewhat ‘last year’ she doesn’t think we’re up to it – but we are) and this is it: Give melons a try.
Yes they need a long hot summer to perform well and probably need the shelter of a cloche or greenhouse in northern gardens but what have you got to lose? You can grow them in an almost identical way to her courgettes and squashes, but a month later because it really isn’t warm enough to plant them out until mid to late June.
Put them in your sunniest spot and when they start flowering you can help the little melons to set by manually picking off a male flower and rubbing the pollen onto the female flower (they were will have a more bulbous base than the male flower and are produced a little while after the male flowers get going). Go on, have a go, if only to prove Elaine wrong!
5. Fruit trees
Apple trees have the prettiest of all the blossoms but you’ll need a second one, or another one in the neighbourhood, for pollination to occur. They’re also tricky to store successfully (mice can be a problem here – there’s always something isn’t there?) Even pears have only a very narrow window in which they’re pleasantly soft yet still crisp and succulent to eat – you might need to go the full ‘Good Life’ here and learn how to bottle them.
So if I had to recommend just one fruit tree to grow in your garden it would be, by a country mile, a Victoria plum. Self fertile (so you only need one) heavy cropping, and plums freeze beautifully. You just shove them in freezer bags. I don’t even take the stones out (I pretend this is because they taste better when stewed with the stones in, but actually laziness is a big factor).
Elaine ended her blog yesterday with some suggestions of how to cook with chard and spinach. Here’s my recipe for cooking stewed plums from frozen: Step 1. Put them in the oven for 30 minutes. Step 2. Add sugar and cream. Step 3. Eat them. Delicious!
NB: If you’re new to The3Growbags, we are three sisters (Laura, Caroline and me, Elaine) who write about gardening once a week and enjoy a good laugh.
You can see all 14 steps to creating a veg patch here. Our regular gardening blog now includes a veg-growing section. We’d love you to join us by entering your email address here. We’ll email you every Saturday.