The soft fruit in my garden have been on a bit of a journey. One that began in a place of unfamiliarity and good intentions and a bit of a learning curve. Now they are on the straight and narrow and are being cared for in a way that clearly pleases them as they are bearing much fruit and of course that pleases me.
As a gardener who likes order and structure in my garden – hence my carrots in straight-ish rows and specific beds for specific plants, I initially put all my fruit plants in the orchard because that’s where the fruit should be. Except the strawberries. They were in the veggie garden close to the house because I knew you had to pick them every day in the height of the season. But what I didn’t fully appreciate was most of the other soft fruit were also of a little and often nature.
I had managed to convince myself that I’d go to the orchard regularly to tend to them, but I was kidding myself, because the orchard is ‘down the far end.’ Not miles away by any stretch of the imagination, but far enough to make wading through long grass everyday a bit of a chore. It is all very well for the big trees as they are more of a once every so often kind of crop. Taking care of them is like a destination activity – you go there and get the job done and then it’s done, be it pruning or harvesting. We put the orchard ‘down the far end’ so we would have a reason to go to the far reaches of our vast three acres. So, to go there daily was little more than wishful thinking.
So my poor black and red currants, blueberries, gooseberries and raspberries suffered horrible neglect in their formative years, and I hardly got to taste more than a morsel. It was my own fault and once I realised this, I carefully dug them up and replanted them closer to home in the veggie garden. However this was still not the end of their traumatic existence. I planted them directly into our swamp soil on a strip of land I had stolen in a sneaky land grab. Hubby the Un-Gardener didn’t want me to extend the garden much further. Now the fruit are in the second row from the back, not on the outside edge like they once were. I really need a fence to contain myself.
What I didn’t realise was this land lay slightly lower than the rest of the garden, and so they stood in soggy soil more than once. To add insult to injury I didn’t have my wonderful sector system back then where weeding takes place on a weekly basis, and as they were at the back and didn’t do much for most of the year I may have forgotten to weed them from time to time. So I built them their own little raised beds and they looked so cute. But they were too small to manoeuvre the lawn mower around them and it just wouldn’t do. So I dug them up once more and built more sensible sized raised beds and they are finally happy and have gone on to thrive.
They are weeded regularly, their irrigation needs are met thanks to my wonderful new system. They even get feed routinely and in return they bear fruit. I had enough blackcurrants for the first time this season to make jam and cordial. There were loads of blueberries and I ate every single one as I toiled in my garden this summer. They were delicious. The raspberries haven’t faired as well, as they are in the new back row and their raised beds weren’t high enough and they drowned. But that’s a task for another day. The gooseberries – well you can’t tell for looking but they aren’t the original ones. I think these are the fourth version of themselves, but I really don’t won’t to count because they weren’t cheap.
So there they all are – my soft fruit. All happy and healthy and I’d like to keep them that way, so I’m going to chop them up a bit. Gosh that sounds harsh for something that has had such a hard life. But you have to be cruel to be kind. They are in for a pruning. The blueberries should escape the too much attention as unless there are dead or dying branches it is best to leave them be. The gooseberries are still too small to get a chop and I’d hate to do something to them that would result in version five.
So the main focus of my secateurs and loppers will be my currants. It turns out the red currants need to be treated differently from the black currants.
Black currants like to produce fruit on young wood so they need to be reduced by about a third every year. This means effectively every year the oldest stems up to a third of the plant need to be removed to just above a healthy bud down in the base of the plant. That should leave behind about 10 stems that are 1 – 2 years old so the plant stays youthful and vigorous forever! Well actually I’m not sure about forever as a black currant bush tends to live for about 10 – 15 years.
Red currants on the other hand like to produce their fruit on old wood, so all you really need to do with these is to remove any dead, diseased and weak branches, any growing in the wrong direction and maybe open up the centre a bit for air flow and that’s about it.
And all going well there will be a fabulous harvest come the summerif I can beat the birds to the lovely jewel like berries.
Come again soon – we are getting deeper into winter, but the garden still calls to me.
Sarah the Gardener : o)