Berries can be expensive to purchase fresh, and they can go bad so quickly that it can be frustrating to buy them. Have you ever thought of growing your own? Here are some backyard berry tips to consider, plus a review of Stella Otto’s Backyard Berry Book.
Backyard Berry Tips
The best part about including fruit in your garden is that fruit is good to eat. Duh.
Does growing fruit seem intimidating to you, though? The idea can often conjures up images of large orchards and bug management issues. However, growing fruit doesn’t have to be too complicated.
Here are a few kinds of fruit that you might ponder planting all at once, or over time. I’ve deliberately left off this list the popular strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry varieties. Why? Because they all require a little more work – a higher level of gardening commitment than the types I’ve outlined below.
I don’t want to scare you off growing your own strawberries because you should grow your own! However, if you’re just getting started with berries, there are simpler types to work with. I want you and your family to be successful berry growers!
To that end, I’m also including in this post a light review of The Backyard Berry Book, by Stella Otto. It’s one that I own, use and love. You can purchse your own copy below:
A Little Side Note
Berries are so pleasing that I suggest making this a family or neighborhood project and getting some children involved. You need to garden with kids – its good for the soul and good for the world. I just throw that out there for what it’s worth.
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Alpine Strawberries as Backyard Berries
Here are some fun facts about Alpine strawberries:
- These strawberries are their own variety of strawberry.
- Though smaller than the berries you may be used to, Alpine strawberries grow easily and are actually considered a ground-cover because of how well they can fill in an empty space.
- They’re practically disease free and oh-so-tasty!
- We grow a red and a yellow variety. The yellow tastes like pineapple and the red tastes pretty much like a regular strawberry.
At harvest time, smooth your hand over the plants and you’ll come across clumps of ripened berries just ready to be plucked off. Pick them to use added to your homemade pancakes or fresh summer salad.
These berries are the perfect size for small children right down to curious babies. My eighteen-month old has already figured out how to tell which ones are ripe and which ones aren’t. It’s in her nature to be careful and I love watching her tenderly poke at each one to see if its soft.
Alpine Strawberries in The Backyard Berry Book
Alpine strawberries are so cool that Stella Otto included them in the strawberry section of her very useful The Backyard Berry Book. I was sent a copy of this little gem by the publisher for review and I was happy to do it!
Here’s a bit of what you can expect in this book:
- The thing I like about Otto’s books is that they’re straightforward and thorough. I miss inviting graphics (I’m sucker for pretty pictures), but there are some fine illustrations to go along with quality explanations.
- I also like that Ms. Stella includes conventional and organic/sustainable options for plant care and pest management. I get so tired of reading gardening literature that hasn’t stepped into the 21st century and realized that not everyone likes to douse their plants in chemical concoctions. I digress.
- Otto’s book The Backyard Orchardist is a great one if you have fruit trees, fyi – follow this link for our review (that was a personal copy that was just too awesome not to let you know about).
- These books are meant to be used again and again as references and they do, indeed, end up out in the garden with me all the time. I need to contact the publisher about creating a water proof version. The five year old and I may have left my berry book out by the strawberries and I think I hear the sprinklers running right now.
More About Alpine Strawberries
To learn more about Alpine strawberries, follow these links:
- Renee’s Garden – Alpine Strawberries – A True Luxury from the Garden
- Dave’s Garden – Edible Landscaping
- Tulips in the Woods can’t get hers to produce fruit (I can’t think why – we’re drowning in berries, especially where there’s part shade/afternoon sun), but she has a great idea on what to do with the leaves that are high in Vitamin C!
Grapes – Are These Backyard Berries?
Do you count grapes as a berry? I sure do! Here’s where I extol the virtues of Concord grapes – can’t get enough of them.
Here are some fun facts about grapes:
- Alpine strawberries grow on the ground, while grapes require a trellis of some kind because they’re vines.
- Unlike a fruit tree, grapes will produce within the second year of planting. Sometimes the first year, although I advise against letting them produce fruit that first year because you want all their energy to go into developing strong root systems.
- You’ll want to read up on grape growing because there are some specific things to know about their care. Of particular importance is to know how to prune the vines and how to keep them healthy.
- They’re not maintenance free BUT grape vines produce grapes and grapes are delightful.
- White, green, purple, red varieties and you can choose between seeded and seedless. There are the classic flavors like Concord that tastes like the color purple and the mighty Muscadines that have the strong flavor of the Great Smokies.
- You’ll need a place that’s permanent in your garden for grapes because they’re perennials – which means they live year after year. We have a seedless Concord taking over the willow house in the children’s garden as we speak; its a gorgeous vine so I’m letting it have its head.
- If you have grapes, you can make this coffee cake coffee cake – it will make it all worth it.
Grapes in The Backyard Berry Book
The Backyard Berry Book has a whole section on grapes and will tell you everything you need to know to become a successful grape grower. All the topics I mentioned above about:
- choosing a variety
- knowing where and how to plant grapes
- and even pruning
are all addressed in The Backyard Berry Book.
More About Grapes
To learn more about grapes online, follow these links:
- Here are some free Grape Arbor Plans.
- Plus, Blue Viola Farm will tell you that anyone can build an arbor, if they can!
- Untrained Housewife gives an overview of Growing Grapes in the Garden.
- Reformation Acres has great information about Which Type of Mulch is Best for Grapes
Incidentally, Reformation Acres also has an incredible cake cookbook called Cake Stand that I highly recommend. It even has a recipe for grape cake. In fact, berries and other wholesome ingredients are all over this book.
Gooseberries as a Backyard Berry
Here are some fun facts about Gooseberries:
- I was first introduced to gooseberries when I lived in Russia, where they call them ‘little watermelons’ because their shape and coloring resemble that tasty fruit.
- Gooseberries are staples in European gardens but I think they should have a place in our North American gardens, as well.
- There are tart, mouth puckering varieties or sweet varieties that are wonderful for eating out of hand.
- They do sport thorns, so very little ones will need to be watched as they learn not to grab stems and be careful when harvesting. I have a very European bent on having thorny plants in my garden. The world is full of thorns and kids should learn how to deal with them early on. We need to be grateful that thorn bushes make gooseberries and not whine because we get a prick or two.
- Berry rakes are helpful for bringing in the berries.
- If you grow gooseberries, you can make gooseberry jam. Making jam with kids is a great enterprise and gooseberries make a killer jam – I will happily taste test your first batches!
Gooseberries in The Backyard Berry Book, too, because this book is thorough in its presentation of all things berry!
More About Gooseberries
To learn more about gooseberries, follow these links:
Love the Garden has a nice layout of info on the gooseberry
The Kitch’n has a lovely recipe for gooseberry jam
Ever heard of hardy kiwi, or as it’s know botanically, Actinidia-arguta? Here are some fun facts about hardy kiwi:
- Also a vine, hardy kiwi don’t have that fuzzy skin like the kiwi most of us find in the store
- You can eat hardy kiwi whole, with the skin on.
- The fruit off this vine is like kiwi flavored grapes!
- They typically grow in zone 5-9, which means you can grow them even if you have cold winters.
- You may need to wait awhile before you enjoy large harvests, fyi. I like having plants that require patience from both the kids and from me – patience is a virtue I sorely need!
- The vines are vigorous, though, regardless of when they come into fruit production and they can create a garden wall or privacy screen when trellised.
- Again, you’ll need something to trellis this vine onto to keep it off the ground and growing where you want it.
- You’ll need a male and a female vine to set fruit but any nursery that sells the one will certainly sell the other.
Anna from Northern Homestead says of hardy kiwi, when asked why she chose to grow it:
“Apparently they grow here, that’s why. There is not a whole lot of fruit that grows here. Yes, they will be a bit overwhelming, maybe not as bad in our short growing season, but we plan to shade our driveway with them, I like the idea too. They will need a stable structure to hold on too, buildings are not recommended.”
Hardy Kiwi in The Backyard Berry Book
Hardy kiwi growing is covered in The Backyard Berry Book, too. You don’t have to be intimidated by fruiting vines because they’re really no trickier than anything else you’re growing.
Honestly, growing vertically (anything) is such a convenient, tidy way to organize your garden. I trellis as much as I can to make the best use of the space – beans, winter squash, grapes and kiwi all can find a home on a sturdy, vertical structure like a pole or pergola.
More About Hardy Kiwi
To learn more about hardy kiwi, visit these links:
Organic Gardening – Kiwifruit for every garden
If you know someone with a vine, you can propagate kiwi by taking softwood cuttings, so says Walden Effect – they will take longer to fruit, just so you know.
There are a lot of options when it comes to backyard berry growing so don’t be limited by just these! If you decide to plant berries of any kind, I would heartily suggest picking up a copy of Stella Otto’s The Backyard Berry Book.
Hardy kiwi graphic gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user.