Country Living Series

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Berry berry good

I've spent the last few weeks working hard to get the berry beds up and running. I'm pleased to report (so far) -- success!

I started with the strawberry beds, two of them. After all these futile years of dying strawberry plants, all the hard work preparing the beds has paid off. My strawberries are doing wonderfully! I have pinched off dozens -- no, hundreds -- of blossoms. I'm not letting the strawberries produce fruit this year. I'd rather they put their energy into growth. But next year -- whoo-hoo, we should be buried in strawberries!

But then an interesting thing happened. Many years ago I attempted to get a berry patch started elsewhere, but didn't realize I chose the most weed-infested spot on our entire twenty acres, thickly infested with thistle, teasel, and other atrocities.

Oh my gosh, I tried everything to get those weeds under control -- black plastic, garden cloth, hand-pulling, you name it. Nothing worked. At last I gave up in despair and paid absolutely no attention to the poor berry plants. I just figured everything had gotten crowded out by the weeds.

Fast forward five years. While walking (wading, actually) through this weed patch a couple weeks ago to determine if anything was salvageable, imagine my astonishment to find several mature strawberry plants hidden among the thick grasses!

Five plants in all. So I dug them up...

...and transplanted them into the spiffy new strawberry beds, in place of a couple of the new plants that never grew.

Some had green strawberries.

One even had a runner, which is already taking root to form a new plant. (In about a week, I'll snip it free from the mother plant and replant it in a different spot.)

Meanwhile the topsoil we brought in sprouted a monoculture of some sort of weed.

No matter, it's an easy thing to pluck them out.

I just can't keep away from the strawberries! I go out two or three times a day just to marvel at my beautiful beautiful beds.

But what about the raspberries I transplanted a couple weeks ago? Most are doing very well indeed...

...but a few didn't make it.

I did notice this brave little sprout.

Fortunately I have a few hardy raspberries still clinging to life in the old weed-infested berry patch, so I transplanted enough to replace the other transplants that didn't make it. By the end of today, the raspberry bed was looking fairly respectable.

Now blueberries -- that's a whole different ball o' wax. I started by preparing the bed as I did the others -- newspaper, hardware cloth, then layered topsoil, composted manure, more topsoil.

Then I had to get blueberry bushes. Look no further than the weed-infested berry patch!

Back in 2004 I planted twenty blueberry bushes in this patch. With the weed issues, I couldn't make the poor things grow and finally abandoned them -- didn't weed, didn't water, just assumed they were dead.

But before spending upwards of $10/bush buying new blueberries, I decided to investigate and see if there was anything worth salvaging in this area.

Well there were! In fact, sixteen of the original twenty bushes were, if not thriving, at least alive! This astounded me because it meant they clung to life through staggering neglect on my part. Well, I'm going to make it up to them.

See the blueberry bush? Well guess what, neither did I unless I looked reeeeeally closely.

It took two days of getting some nasty scratches from the teasels and thistles as I dug up the blueberry bushes, but one by one I got them all transplanted.

Blueberries love acid soil, so I sprinkled azalea food around the plants and gave everything a good thorough watering.

It was a lot of hot, hard, scratchy, ant-infested work, but at last all the bushes were moved. If they survive the transplant shock -- and I was careful to keep as much soil around their roots as I could -- then these poor long-suffering bushes should begin to thrive at last.


  1. Wow, that's a TON of work! Wifey an I walk out almost every morning to marvel at our garden. Two year ago we had nothing to look at.

    Keep up the good work...and posts, to help the rest of us figure out how to do it too.

  2. I'm rather surprised at your decision not to allow your strawberry plants to produce. I've known a commercial strawberry producer for years and she always uses new plants each year, keeping only a few for a second year. These second-year plants produce far less fruits and much smaller at that, no matter the variety. Of course our conditions are wildly different since we have a very long growing season: it barely freezes in winter! We live in an oceanic climate at the very Western tip of continental Europe.

    I've seen her pinch the first flowers from plants she put in in autumn for early fruiting in the spring (mid-to-late March!) or the very first ones from patches meant to produce later in the season, but never allowing one full growing season only for root development.

    Of course I assume you've studied the matter beforehand and know what's best for your climate, but even here most gardeners and even sellers from garden-stores (name?) assume their strawberry and raspberry plants will keep on giving year after year. This friend's 45+ years of experience tell her otherwise... for our climate. May I suggest taking advice from some commercial producer in a climate zone similar to yours, if they are any?

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog and have learned a lot. Thank you!

  3. Yes indeed, very berry good! Should make some good jam and tasty homemade ice cream, too!

  4. Anon 1:58, that was a very good point. I'd just heard that first-year strawberries shouldn't be allowed to grow fruit. So I went online to see what I could find and saw the following:

    Pinch the Flowers Off for New Plants

    New plants benefit from pinching off the flowers the first year, or at least the first flowering. The plant takes this as a signal to grow more roots, and puts down deeper, stronger roots, which in turn means a healthier plant. Removing flowers means you won't get a berry crop right away but subsequent crops are likely to be heavier and produce larger berries.

    What Do You Do with Strawberry Flowers?

    For June-bearing strawberries, special attention should be paid to the strawberry plant’s flowers. Generally, if you order strawberry plants online, they will be shipped to you in the spring. Once received, they should be planted as soon as possible. But, if they were bare-root strawberry plants or strawberry crowns only, it is going to take them some time to establish themselves.

    The plants don’t realize this of course, and will try to produce strawberries by sending forth their flowers. This is not good for the plants or the harvest. The already-weakened plants need all the energy they can muster to take root and make a new home. If they expend the energy on berry production, they will not establish themselves well. This can compromise the plant’s future production as well. Additionally, since the just-shipped plants are weak anyway, they have less energy to devote to strawberry production. This results in smaller, puny strawberries in the same year you order and plant new strawberry plants.

    Te solution is to pinch off or cut off all flowers from every new strawberry plant for the first growing season, allowing the strawberry plants to root and grow without distraction. Simply check the plants once a week and remove any flowers you find. Most June-bearing strawberries will be completely done producing flowers sometime in July (usually early July). Although not specifically addressing day-neutral or everbearing strawberry varieties here, new plants of each of those types should have their blossoms removed until early July also. However, after July, any strawberry flowers that bloom can be left to develop into strawberries.

    While the overall consensus seems to favor pinching off flowers, I think I'll do an experiment. My plants are everbearing, so I will pinch off the flowers in one bed, but not the other. I'll report the results.

    - Patrice

  5. Well that weedy area really yielded some wonderful plants! I'm sure that was hard work but so worth it.

    I transplanted some raspberries last year into a bed and only one made it. So I'll just replant more this fall.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  6. Patrice, are you planning to mulch your berries? I have tried several years in the past to grow strawberries, but have always lost most of them to disease. I had heard that most people who mulched their berries with straw, did so to keep mud off of the berries. We have mostly amended sand, so I did not bother with the straw mulch. This year I put down a layer of newspapers around the berries and, since straw is hard to come by, I used Coastal hay to mulch. Our berry season is over and I am pleased to say we had a great harvest and did not loose one plant to disease.

    Southern Girl

  7. It will be most welcome. May I inquire about the varieties you've chosen? I doubt they are the same as those commonly available to professionals in Europe, but they may be familiar. I'd be especially interested in your comparisons on next year's crop, from plants allowed to produce the first year compared to those that weren't. Second-year plants produce somewhat earlier (once again, in our true-winter-less climate) but it would be nice to compare with the production of new plants too (which can be obtained and grown from runners. We usually leave a few plants to produce runners, sacrificing most of the fruit production, rather than buying all of them new from a nursery each year. It cuts the costs -and my thumbs!- significantly.)

    If you're interested, I'll ask her how long it takes for plants planted in late Spring to produce, and her criteria for allowing flowers to develop to fruit.

    If there are specific questions, I'd be more than happy to ask her. I'm certain I'll gain a more comprehensive knowledge from these 2 very different conditions.

  8. Southern Girl -- yes, I intend to mulch. We have plenty of old hay (LOL) so that won't be a problem. I'm actually waiting for all the weeds that were brought in with the topsoil to sprout first, so I can get rid of them more easily. Mulching is the way to go for future weed control as well as water retention.

    Anon 7:38, I ordered 100 Cabot Strawberries (because they're good in northern climates), and then a "medley" pack of 100 more plants consisting of 50 each of Ozark and Tribute.

    - Patrice

  9. here in mississippi (northeast part) i cover my strawberrry plants with oak leaves in the fall. and i use pinestraw for the blueberries.

  10. Round-Up + Weeds, gone. It leaves not residue.

  11. Patrice the beds look really good. It's 78 and sunny here, and the plants are all rejoicing.

    My husband picked (and promptly ate) the first round of strawberries from our yard patch this morning. Woo hoo! I'm beginning to believe in summer again...maybe. lol

    We have another patch down in the main garden, but it's the one we allow to run wild year after year amidst the landscaped plants that produces the best and most strawberries.

    We also have a patch of wild strawberries that produces the most amazing tasting little berries imaginable. They're tiny and difficult to pick, but a scant quarter cup of them can boost the flavor of a bowl of strawberries into a whole new orbit of taste. Definitely worth the trouble.

    I prize volunteer and 'feral' plants like your long-forgotten berries. They can be ferociously productive and flavorful. I've had some kitchen gray-water tomatoes that were phenomenal.

    I have some wild blackberry vines established in hanging baskets. (They're also useful as security perimeter plants. If you don't know it's there and walk into it the dogs WILL hear you, and I very likely may as well, depending on what part of your anatomy is involved and for how long. But that's another post.)

    Well, I'm gonna go water something.

    A. McSp

    The daughter's 'grazing baskets' have been pretty to look at on the deck and really useful
    at the table. We've used the lettuce and greens from the first two, and are now letting the (very happy)snow peas take over their space.

    We're starting on basket number three now, which is mostly salad mix, including one plant that produces a purplish-green leaf that tastes like fresh horseradish. It makes a hugely scrumptious cold roast beef sandwich! And I needn't tell you what it does for a green salad.

    I'm sending the rest of my hanging baskets to the girl. They've been brought out for their annual color displays, but these little grazers are working out so well I've decided to use them for more food instead. Plus, I'm letting the finished plants to go to seed, so we're just going to experiment and see what we get, but in the meantime we have nice colorful blossoms to enjoy.

    Fresh greens ten feet from the kitchen sink? Well...lemme think about

    A. McSp

  12. I'm surprised by the amount of surprise.

    A plant that thrives best with human care can produce some mighty tasty fruit, but one that can't _survive_ without us doesn't -- IMHO, anyway -- deserve to. And those berry plants that fought their way through a crowd of weeds to defy the odds offer a valuable life lesson, too. :)