Over the past week, I’ve been busy planting berries in the garden, in anticipation of summer when I hope we’ll be picking bright, juicy berries loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants. With a bit of planning, it is possible to harvest berries from November right through until April in Auckland. Considering the amount of room they require to grow and their potential yield, berries are a good fruit to grow in the garden and children just love them!
For the sake of completeness, I should begin by mentioning the blueberry plants that I planted in large containers in May. I planted the following varieties: Blue Magic, Blue Dawn, Sapphire Blue, Blast, Burst, Tasty Blue, Powder Blue and Climax. Blueberries grow perfectly happily in the ground but thrive in acidic soil. Unfortunately our soil tends to be on the alkaline side and I’ve never had any luck in growing them successfully in the ground, hence trying to grow them in containers this time around. I have been advised that the key to success is to use a good quality potting mix that contains peat. I used Tui Pot Power which is sold in 40L bags in garden centres and hardware stores in New Zealand. I used a range of spare containers I had, ranging from plastic pots to half wine barrels, approximately 30-40L in size. Since Pot Power contains long-lasting nutrients, it was not necessary for me to add an additional fertiliser to the berries. Just ensure that the containers you use have drainage holes at the bottom, to prevent them from becoming waterlogged over the winter months when it can rain constantly.
I planted about 40 strawberry plants over the past week. The varieties were Camerosa and Pajero. The amazing thing is that I didn’t have to purchase a single one. Last spring, I bought 18 healthy runners from a top quality local garden centre and over the course of the summer, they multiplied prolifically. Each plant sent out what is known as ‘runners’, which stem from the parent plant and put down roots, becoming a plant in their own right. Once they are anchored down sufficiently into soil then you can snip and separate them from the parent plant. I happened to pot mine up so that I had room to plant other things in the garden over winter, with the intention of planting out the new runners in May. Unfortunately I fell behind schedule, as you can see from the fact that I only got around to doing this task in August. However it’s not too late – but get them in quickly though. Last year I only planted the store bought runners in August, yet we had a prolific supply for Christmas, which is when they are typically enjoyed in summer desserts such as the pavlova. At the time of planting strawberries, be sure to mix in plenty of compost and sheep pellets, as well as a little slow release fertiliser to aid their growth (I used tomato fertiliser which is fine to use with strawberries as both contain potassium which is essential to their flowering and eventual fruiting).
I also planted a variety of brambles to extend our berry season, which typically starts with strawberries at the beginning of November and is followed by blueberries in the new year. Brambles include raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries and hybridberries. I decided to plant one of each in the garden. I planted a Raspberry called ‘Aspiring’, a Blackberry called ‘Black Satin’, a Boysenberry called ‘Starlight’ and a Hybridberry called ‘Thornless Jewel’. At the time of planting, be sure to add compost, sheep pellets and a fertiliser to kick-start their growth. I used a 2-year slow release fertiliser called Kings 24 Plus which comes from my local garden centre.
Don't forget to cover your delicious berries with netting to protect them from birds who can't resist the sight of juicy, bright berries. Beware blackbirds in particular, who are always drawn to my strawberry patch!
While some gardeners who plant berries are keen jam makers or rely on berries heavily in baking items such as muffins, we prefer to enjoy our berries fresh with a little ice-cream or yoghurt; either ordinary yoghurt or for a delectable treat, a dollop of coconut yoghurt.