Are you interested in growing your own healthy food, becoming more self reliant, saving money, and planning for the future? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should be interested in perennial crops. Your initial investment of time and money will reward you for years to come. Prepare your perennial beds properly, water and weed your plants, top dress with some compost, and you can harvest fresh food for your table year after year.
Last week I wrote about Perennial Vegetables to plant in your garden. This week we’ll look at small fruits that will help you become more self sufficient.
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Small Perennial Fruits for the Home Garden
Small fruits are ideal for gardeners with limited space. They don’t take up as much room as most fruit trees and can often be tucked into suburban and urban spaces that receive full sun. Do some research to find out what zone you live in and what plants do best in your area. Watch to see how much sun your planting areas receive, and think carefully about how much space you have available. If prime gardening space is limited, you might be able to train grape vines up a vertical trellis, plant strawberries in pots, choose smaller varieties, or plant intensively for increased harvests.
Propagate Your Own
You can start out with just a few plants and propagate more to save money. If you have room for a nursery bed, use that space to grow new plants. Grapes grow quite easily by layering or cuttings. Brambles produce new plants by layering also, or by suckering. Strawberries send out runners that can be trained into rows, or the new plants can be transplanted to a new spot. An abundance of new plants may be produced with some time and patience.
Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits for the home garden. They grow best in sandy loam that is slightly acidic. Plant in full sun in an area where no nightshade crops (tomatoes, potatoes, etc.) have been planted in the last 3 years to prevent the spread of Verticillium Wilt. Most strawberry plants will begin to produce in their second year and will last up to five years with regular maintenance and fertilizing.
Choose June Bearing strawberries for a large harvest over 2 or 3 weeks in the spring. Ever bearing plants will produce 2 or 3 smaller harvests and day neutral plants produce throughout the season. For June bearing plants the best harvests are achieved with light dressings of compost or a balanced fertilizer shortly before flowering and again after the June bearing harvest is over. Ever bearing and day neutral plants will require more frequent top dressing with compost or a light application of fertilizer. Renovate your June bearing patch by mowing or cutting back the top growth after harvest. Be careful not to cut into the crown.
Grapes are woody vines that can live well over 50 years. They like a deep, rich loam that is well drained and receives full sun. Fruit grows on year old wood and vines will produce best when properly trained and pruned. Provide plenty of air circulation to prevent fungal infections, and a trellis or fence for the vines to grow on. Tie grape vines to supports to keep fruit from growing on the ground where rot is more prevalent.
Choose varieties suited for your climate and your needs. Table grapes are best for eating out of hand, while wine grapes are often seedy and better suited for juicing and fermenting. Grapes can be grown in insulated pots or they may be espaliered to save space. Planting a marginally hardy variety along a south facing wall will provide a more hospitable micro-climate.
Kiwis thrive in moist garden soil that is well drained and neutral or slightly acidic. Hardy varieties can be planted in northern climates, although the fruit will be smaller. Plant one male plant to 3 or 4 female plants for pollination. A light application of fertilizer before spring growth and again after fruiting will increase yields, but be careful not to over fertilize. Cuttings can be made in midsummer to propagate new plants. Prune male plants any time after flowering and female plants after harvest. Remove 1/3 of current season’s growth to increase yields the following year.
Blackberries and raspberries come in many varieties and colors. They grow on thorny canes (although thornless varieties are available) that require staking for best results. Brambles tolerate poor soil in full sun to light shade. A well drained spot that you can mow around is ideal, since brambles tend to send out suckers and long canes that will turn your yard into a thorny jungle. Tops of canes can be trimmed to keep plants in check.
Blackberries bear fruit on second year growth and will fruit for about a month. Remove fruiting branches when harvest is complete to keep hedges maintained. Most raspberries also grow on second year wood, but some varieties produce fruit on new growth and will fruit twice each season.
Blueberries require acidic soil and will not do well in alkaline or neutral beds. Plant them in full sun in a spot with rich, organic soil that is moist but well drained. Although blueberry plants will begin fruiting in their 3rd or 4th year, sizable harvests will not be achieved for 5 or 6 years. These are probably the most difficult small fruit to grow in your home garden and may not be suitable for all areas. Use an acidic fertilizer and keep soil moist, but not soggy. Propagating plants is also trickier and requires patience.
The three main categories of blueberries are Highbush (grow best in northern climates), Rabbiteye (native to southern states), and Southern Highbush (hybrid of Highbush and Rabbiteye – produces increased yields in milder climates). Highbush are self fruitful, but will produce more fruit if two or more varieties are planted together. Rabbiteye are not self fruitful, so at least 2 varieties must be planted together for pollination. Southern Highbush also produce best with two or more varieties planted together. Dwarf Blueberries may be planted in pots or very tight spaces. They give another option to urban and suburban gardeners working toward a higher level of self sufficiency in small spaces.
Currents and Gooseberries
These members of the Ribes family are restricted in some states where White Pines are important to the economy. Check before planting these, as they are the alternate host for White Pine blister rust. Currents and gooseberries prefer light shade and cool, moist soil for best growth. Top dress with compost in spring and avoid over fertilizing. Allow 3 to 5′ between bushes and 8 to 10′ between rows. Prune plants while they are dormant to thin out old wood. Fruit is produced on year old wood and will continue to produce for several years on each cane.
The main types available are white, red, and black current and white or pink gooseberry. All produce a tart, flavorful fruit that tends to be rather seedy. The fruits are high in nutritional value and make excellent juices and jellies. Eating fresh from the bush may not appeal to everyone.
This is not a complete list of perennial fruits that can be planted on your homestead, but rather a sampling. There are many more types of small fruits that grow well in mild climates!
Do you have perennial fruits in your garden? What is your favorite?