Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are easy to grow and are good for pollinators – and they taste delicious too!
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The British berry season has now begun, with a succession of delicious fruits appearing in supermarkets over the coming months.
But strawberries, blueberries and raspberries taste best of all when you grow your own – when picked and eaten immediately, the flavour is superb.
Growing your own reduces packaging and your carbon footprint, and could save you money. And strawberry, blueberry and raspberry plants all produce nectar-rich flowers that can help support struggling pollinator populations.
Strawberries are easy to grow, and are particularly suited to containers or hanging baskets – just give them a sunny, sheltered spot and keep them well watered.
Strawberry plants should produce a decent crop every summer for several years – so they are a cost-effective way to enjoy this delicious fruit. Choose a mixture of early, mid and late-fruiting varieties for a continuous crop all summer. Good varieties include Honeoye (early), Elsanta (mid) and Florence (late). You can also buy 'everbearing' varieties that crop all summer, and may do better in colder regions – try Malling Opal.
In late summer, strawberry plants produce runners – baby plants that grow out from the parent plant on long, thin stems. For free, tasty fruits next summer, pin these into pots of compost, without cutting the stems. Once the runner has formed roots, you can detach it from the parent plant.
Strawberries are at their best served simply with fresh cream – or try topping scones, shortbread or meringue nests with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.
Another berry that's easy to grow at home is the blueberry. Supermarket blueberries often come from far-flung places such as Chile – which is surprising, as the plants are actually quite well-suited to the British climate, and aren't that hard to grow.
The main requirement of blueberries is acidic soil. There are some places in the UK where this type of soil occurs naturally – the presence of rhododendrons and heathers is often a good sign – but it's more common to have non-acidic soil in your garden.
You can buy an acid test kit to check whether your soil is suitable for blueberries. But if it's not, don't worry – blueberries grow equally well in tubs of ericaceous compost. Just be sure to keep them well watered.
Blueberries produce fruit between July and September. Good varieties include Earliblue, Bluecrop, and Chandler.
The plants themselves don't need much space, and as well as producing their delicious fruit, they have sweetly-scented bell-shaped blossoms in the spring and leaves that turn an attractive red colour in the autumn.
Keeping the pots by the back door is a good idea – the berries are less likely to be pinched by birds, and you can pop out first thing in the morning to gather a handful of blueberries for breakfast! They're perfect with pancakes and maple syrup.
The health benefits of blueberries are well known – they're frequently described as a 'superfood'. They contain anthocyanidins, the compounds that give them their deep purple colour. These compounds are good for heart health and can reduce cholesterol. The powerful antioxidants in blueberries can also boost the immune system.
Raspberries are cheap and easy to grow – and once you've planted them, they continue to produce fruit for many years.
Raspberries grow from canes, and can fruit in either summer or autumn. If you grow both varieties, you could be eating raspberries from June until October!
Early summer varieties include Glen Moy. Valentina and Glen Ample are mid-summer raspberries, while Autumn Bliss is a popular autumn-fruiting variety. If you don't have much space, some compact varieties are suitable for container growing – try Summer Lovers Patio Red, or autumn-fruiting All Gold.
Plant raspberry canes 45cm apart in weed-free soil where they'll get plenty of sun. Water well.
Summer varieties need to be tied onto sturdy supports or bamboo canes. After fruiting, cut down the old stems (the ones that have just produced fruit) to ground level, to allow new canes to grow for next year's crop.
Autumn varieties don't need supporting. All canes should be cut down to ground level in February – new fruiting stems will emerge in spring.
Raspberries have a lower sugar content than many other fruits, so are a good dessert choice if you are trying to watch your sugar or calorie intake. They're also a good source of vitamin C.
Serve raspberries with cream or ice cream – crumbling some meringue nests over the top adds a little extra sweetness if you need it. Raspberries are an essential ingredient in the classic English dessert, summer pudding, made with juice-soaked bread and mixed summer berries and served with cream. And – especially if you grow your own and find you have a glut – they make great jam.
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Little Green Space May 2023
A quick guide to growing your own