Grow brilliant berries

Bursting with the sweetness of summer, berries are child’s play to grow at home.

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It’s not just kids who are wild about berries. Blueberries in particular have achieved cult status among the healthconscious – thanks to their antioxidants and reputed cancer-fighting properties.

Fresh berries can be pricy because of their brief shelf life, but it’s not difficult to grow blackberries, raspberries and blueberries at home. I still remember the blackberry bush near the railway line at our farm stall – it was huge with luscious berries and I often ended up falling into the brambles in pursuit of a fruit. But it’s the sweetness of the berries I remember, not the thorns.

Blackberries and raspberries are both members of the blackberry family (Rubus spp.), while blueberries belong to the Ericaceae family. Berry bushes fare well just about everywhere, but most varieties need cold winters to fruit well. A potted shrub costs about R60 at a nursery, but bear in mind that European blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are a Category 2 alien and are regulated from region to region.

Planting tips
• The best time to plant is in winter when the shrubs are dormant, but a small plant from a nursery can be planted at any time of the year.
• Plant in well-drained loamy or sandy soil that’s rich in organic matter.
• Establish the plants where they’ll receive sunlight for most of the day.
• Blackberries can grow fairly large, so plant them three metres apart. Alternatively, plant them against a wire fence or a wall to save space.
• Blackberries and raspberries prefer a pH of 6.3, while acidic soil (pH 4 to 5) is essential for blueberries.
• Blueberries can be successfully cultivated in pots, otherwise plant them 1.5-2m apart in beds.

Did you know?
Ever wondered why raspberries are hollow? When you pick the berry, the core remains on the plant.

Cultivation tips
• While a single blueberry bush will bear fruit, it’s better to plant two or more cultivars to encourage cross-pollination.
• A good mulch layer around the bushes will help keep the soil moist and weeds under control.
• Feed shrubs once in spring with a fertiliser such as 3:1:5 and repeat this once in summer to encourage the next season’s budding.

Harvesting tips
• Berries are usually ready to harvest from November to late January, depending on the variety.
• Their fridge life is brief, ranging from 3 to 7 days, so pick for immediate eating.
• Fortunately, berries freeze well. Wash them carefully, then gently pat them dry with paper towels. Spread them on a plastic or oven tray, freeze them, and then transfer them to a sturdy plastic bag and return to the freezer – they’ll keep for up to a year! Add a little lemon juice to raspberries to retain their colour.

Superstars
Berries, and blueberries in particular, are renowned for their antioxidant properties, and many people believe they can ward off cancer. Berries are an excellent source of fibre, manganese, potassium and copper.

By Beatrice Moore-Nöthnagel

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