Fresh, Local Berries

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, July 7, 2000

Strawberries, blackberries, dewberries, blueberries and raspberries were growing widely in New England when the Europeans invaded almost 400 years ago. Each of these berries ripens in its turn to produce a nearly continuous supply from June to October. Not only are these berries delicious, they have lots of Vitamin C, potassium and fiber and many contain cancer-fighting compounds, too. Growing and picking these berries near where we live connect us directly with local, seasonal production.

Our strawberries have just stopped producing. We picked them for about three weeks and enjoyed wonderful shortcakes. Strawberries require more work than other small fruits because they are short-lived, are easily overrun by weeds and need replanting every two or three years. You can extend the harvest season by planting different varieties.

As strawberries wane, blackcap raspberries begin to ripen. Since birds spread the seeds, the only real effort required is picking! Each year, about this time, we find a bountiful crop of these firm, flavorful berries. Blackcaps are likely to grow under trees anywhere there is bare or disturbed ground. They thrive in a bit of shade. Blackcaps are easy to recognize because of their gracefully-arching, purple canes. When their tips touch the ground, they take root, which eventually creates a large patch dense enough to discourage most weeds. Every few years we discover a new patch, just as an old one is dying out.

Although it is fairly common to find red raspberries, blackberries and blueberries growing wild, the fruits from cultivated varieties are often bigger and sweeter, so it's definitely worth planting and caring for them. We've found that berries grow well with just three kinds of care: a thick mulch to build fertility and keep weeds down; an annual pruning to prevent too much growth; and of course, picking. We use leaves, compost or straw to mulch all of these small fruits, except the blueberries which prefer a thick layer of wood chips to create the required acidity.

Blueberries can be planted alone as attractive landscape plants and as feed for birds, or arranged in clusters for serious picking. Wild blueberries grow on thin, rocky soils over much of this region. Cultivated blueberries, developed early in this century, come in a number of varieties which ripen from July through September. Blueberry patches should be protected from the birds with netting.

Red raspberries will ripen soon, too. The Heritage variety we planted decades ago produces berries in early summer and again in the fall.

Blackberries are rampant growers. Our eight-foot-tall canes usually produce nearly one-inch berries. I like to pick blackberries when they are so ripe that they are warm from the sun. They're oh so sweet.

Raspberries and blackberries benefit from growing along a fence or trellis. They also make excellent barriers or hedges.

Look for these delicious berries in the wild and plan to plant some next spring. There's nothing quite like local, fresh, fully-ripe organic berries.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 2000 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.