All about.... Berries

I attended a Berry workshop at CERES on Saturday, as a result of a friend giving me their place as they were too busy to attend themselves. (Massive thanks by the way!)
On the dreary morning I slugged my way out of bed and into the city where the ground reflects the grey sky. Due to the weather we spent most of the time inside, chatting about everything BERRIES! It was a small number of people, which gave the workshop an intimate vibe.

A few key pointers when it comes to berries:
- Zone 2 plants, sometimes bordering Zone 1 (particularly strawberries)
-They usually dig acidic soil (a pH test is crucial)
- They need a specific management system, which depends on how you want to grow them
- Getting organic stock means they will be less prone to disease
- Berries dislike humidity
- Plant on mounds
- Most berries need a chill factor (200hrs of chill, below 8 degrees C)
- Berries grow well with citrus, as they provide shade and also like acid soil
- They do not compete well with 'weeds' and grasses
- Need protection from strong winds
- Like to be shaded from hot western sun
- Keep mulch away from stems to discourage fungal disease

Soil preparation is essential for growing most plants. Berries need particular attention given to their soil. A mix of compost and manure, making sure to always rotate manures. Rock dust is also good to add to the soil for trace minerals, and sulfur can be added to bring the pH down.
Looking to nature for observation, berries usually grown in forest woodlands throughout Europe. This means they like to grow as an understory in dappled light, upon heavily mulched mounds. Growing in pine forests makes the soil considerably acidic, which is ideal for berries. By adding pine needles to your compost you will make it more acidic to use on berries and citrus.
They like moisture, but not wet feet. This is where mulching plays a role.
Being highly prone to fungal diseases (this is why they do not like humidity) it is a good idea, like in vineyards, to plant roses near your berries. Roses show signs of fungal disease before anything else, which means you can get onto it before it gets your produce!
Not liking competition, it is a good idea to sheet mulch before planting (laying down soaked newspaper or card over the garden area to suppress weeds before covering with soil, manure, mulch and then planting).

More specifics:

Raspberries These are sucking shrubs with cane-like stems that grow 1.5-2.25m high. They like well drained, acidic to neutral rich soil and grow best in cool-temperate areas.
Plant in autumn or winter in rows facing north to south. It is best if they are shaded from wind and harsh afternoon sun. This would be done by planting next to an east facing wall, or using evergreen trees for shelter.
When planting, loosen the soil by digging a small trench. Work in compost and manure, and create a ridge that is 10-15cm high. Raspberry canes need to be supported with wires or a framework. Attaching 3 wires to a fence, lattice or posts will suffice.
Soak the bare rooted stock in diluted seaweed tonic for half an hour before planting. This helps with root shock and provides minerals for the roots and soil biota to feed on. Alternativley, I thought that adding coir fiber (coconut fiber) which had been soaked in diluted seaweed solution and adding it to the soil would both retain moisture and give the roots a boost.
Mulching with lucerne 10cm deep is best, soaking the mulch beforehand.
Pruning is a must for these suckers! Keeping onto pruning means minimizing maintenance!
Raspberries fruit on canes produced the previous season, which look a little sad after they finish fruiting. For autumn varieties, pruning back vigorously at ground level is required. The summer variates from what I understand do not need to be pruned as heavily.
So... here comes an interesting bit.
There are two types of canes, primocanes and floricanes. Primocanes are the canes which are produced in the first year, and floricanes are canes produced from the primocanes in the second year. If floricanes are cut back then more primocanes are produced from the ground level of the plant.
Autumn varieties apparently do not taste as nice, but fruit later and are easier to manage. They require vigorous pruning of the primocanes, which in turn produce more primocanes and fruit again the next year.
Summer varieties however, are more delicious, but require more maintenance. They produce primocanes, then floricanes, which then produce the fruit, exhaust themselves, and produce more primocanes which in turn produce floricanes which again fruit. Make-a-sense?
Due to the need for floricanes and primocanes growing at different times, it makes pruning a little hard. You want to prune back the floricanes but not the primocanes, and if you leave this too long after they have fruited, it becomes hard to distinguish between the wood.
To make it easier people use pieces of ribbon or fabric to tie bunches of primocanes and floricanes, making it easier to identify at pruning time.
Berries really do require netting, or some kind of protection from birds.

Strawberries These plant well in pots, or make sure they are closest to the wall of your garden bed for easy access, as they are a ground cover. They are herbaceous plants, about 15cms high spreading into clumps roughly 50-100cms wide. They are pollinated by bees (these creatures are AWESOME!).
Strawberries are particularly prone to disease. buy good stock!
Before planting, dig over the soil and add compost and manure (some people use blood and bone too, or worm juice or castings). Plants should be positioned about 30cms apart and like more sun than some of the other berries. They do their best in well drained soils, so planting on mounds again is essential. Do not bury the swollen stem at the base (the crown) too deep.
When the young plants are being established, water well. It is best to surround the plant (not touching the stem!) with a layer of straw mulch, which helps keep the fruit off the ground and prevents rotting. Strawberries grow particularly well using pine needles for mulch.
When they first start to flower, add some pot-ash or wood ash from the fire, this gives the plant more potassium, which aids in the ripening of fruit.
Over the summer, strawberry plants will produce runners. These are modified shoots and can be used to propagate new strawberry plants. In the winter cut these runners off from the stem, leaving the root intact.
Replant in rich acidic soil. Once the 'mother' plant has fruited give them a hard prune and tidy up any old leaves.
Strawberries last for about 4 years, although you can keep taking runners. Some people treat strawberries like annuals by taking the runners each year.

Blueberries These like a soil particularly acidic, ranging from between 4.5-5.5. They need trace elements such as magnesium, boron and zinc. Blueberry shrubs grow to 1-2m tall, and branch out wide. They last between 15-20yrs.
There are four main types of fruiting blueberries, the low bush types (have a chill factor and require very low temperatures in order to set fruit. Unsuitable for most Australian growing conditions), the high bush types (these are partly deciduous, have a chill factor but can be grown in southern Australia) and the southern high bush (grow well in Australian gardens in warmer conditions).
Hardwood cuttings are taken in winter and should be 20-30cms long. Plant out in summer, once roots have been established in some potting mix. The evergreen variates are propagated by taking small cuttings from the tip and are easier to grow in cool temperate climates.
Blueberries like a rich and well drained soil. When transplanting tease out the roots. They need to be shaded from harsh sun and wind.

Home made fungicides:- Chamomile tea
- Milk (dilute 1 part milk to 10 parts water and spray- works great for powdery mildew)
- Garlic
- She-Oak

There are some berry basics!
I am looking a little more into some other types of berries. I would like to do a patch design for a berry food forest, perhaps with a feijoa hedge surrounding, if soil types permit.
Happy brambling!


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