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Fruits of the Season: Notes on my Berry Patch

It was a good year for my berries. I have a 400 square-foot “berry patch”, half of it for the Fragaria genus (Strawberries, Alpine Strawberries, Musk Strawberries) and half for the Rubus genus (Raspberries, Blackberries, Thimbleberries and the various crosses such as the Tayberry and Loganberry).

The strawberry harvest in June went well in spite of the unusually persistent wet weather we had in May. I normally try to garden organically, but with that amount of moisture coming after bloom, the conditions for Botrytis (grey mold) were too good, so I had to spray a couple times with Captan. In the end we had far more berries than we could eat, so I was able to take 10 pounds of fresh berries and made a few gallons of wine. This is cellaring now, along with the raspberry mead I started last fall, and a gallon of an herbal wine (spearmint, pepermint and lemon balm in a 2:2:1 ratio). I’ve never made an herbal wine before and the ingredients were improvised based on what had a pleasing smell in the herb garden at the time. So there is a non-zero chance that I will end up with a gallon of homemade mint mouthwash.

I’ve been picking the raspberries for around a month now. I have the usual red varieties as well as some yellow and black. My wife refuses to sacrifice any of these to my wine making exploits this year. I will comply with her wishes, but I do hope to be rewarded with a pie in return for my benevolence.

Last year I started another bed, this dedicated to members of the Vaccinium genus (Highbush Blueberries, Wild Lowbush Blueberries, Bilberries, Cranberries, Lingonberries and Everygreen Huckleberries). These all share a common need for acidic soil, so it makes sense to group them together. Since this bed is only a year old, the fruiting was negligible.

I’d love also to plant some Ribes genus plants (Gooseberries, Currants) but these are illegal to grow in Massachusetts. This is an argicultural restriction put in place back in the 1920’s to prevent the spread of Pine Blister Rust, a serious and deadly disease of White Pines. The organism that causes Blister Rust does not spread directly from Pine tree to Pine tree but only via the intermediary of a Gooseberry or Currant plant where it completes part of its lifecycle. So when the government wanted to eliminate Blister Rust, they banned Ribes and so I have no Currants.

I also have various other berries and small fruit that don’t fall into the above categories, including:

  • A Medlar tree
  • A Pin Cherry tree (hope to make some wine from the fruit this year)
  • Grapes (American Vitis labrusca “Fox” grapes, like Concord, Mars and Remailly)
  • Serviceberry
  • Honeyberry (Lonicera Kamchatika — native to Siberia)
  • Elderberry

Some good sources of berry plants that I’ve used include Nourse Farms here in Massachusetts and Raintree Nursery in Washington state.

Good books for the home berry grower include:

For New England growers, a subscription to the UMass Berry Notes newsletter is a must. Although it is targetted to the commercial grower, most of the information is applicable to the home grower as well.

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