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? The four backyard berries we discuss in today’s article are all perennials – which means they continue to grow year after year. That means that you plant once, and reap harvests for years to come!
So, 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, of course! Does growing fruit seem intimidating to you, though? The idea can often conjures up images of large orchards and bug management issues. However, growing berry fruit doesn’t have to be too complicated.
Today we’re highlighting four different berries for backyard growing that you might consider for your homestead. 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 of berries to grow. 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.
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.
The Benefit of Perennials in the Garden
As I mentioned, the four berries we cover today are all perennials. To help clarify what a perennial is and the benefit of having them on the homestead, I quote from our article “5 Perennial Bulbs for Companion Planting“:
Perennial plants are vital assets in the gardens and landscaping of the homestead. These plants put down strong roots systems that:
- Prevent erosion
- Encourage beneficial soil critters (soil ecology)
- Hold nutrients in the soil
- Provide organic material in the soil in the form of dead root shed (as well as fallen leaves, stems, and bark above ground)
As you make your garden design plans, I encourage you to include as many perennials as possible. If these plants also produce food, so much the better! The more “jobs” they can perform on the homestead, the more abundance you and your ecosystems will enjoy. (In permaculture, we call this plant multi-tasking stacking functions.)
Alpine Strawberries as Backyard Berries
Here are some fun facts about Alpine strawberries:
- These strawberries are their own variety of strawberry and highly adaptable to most growing conditions.
- 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.
How to Grow Alpine Strawberries
Because Alpine strawberries are such a great ground cover, I would grow them all over the gardens and orchard even if they didn’t produce fruit. Ground covers cool the soil in summer, shade out competing weeds, sequester water in the soil, and generally protect and provide for the plants around them.
Ground covers are like a suit of armor for your soil!
Growing Requirements for Alpine Strawberries:
- Sun: Full/Pt. Shade
- Soil: Loamy (but can tolerate some clay or sand); Mulch around the plants
- Water: 1″ per week; more in hot weather
- Growing Zone: 3-10
More About Alpine Strawberries
To learn more about Alpine strawberries online, follow these links:
- How to Grow Alpine Strawberries by Lovely Greens.
- Home for the Harvest’s Guide to Alpine Strawberries.
- Make this French Yogurt Cake from Deb’s Kitchen with Alpine Strawberries.
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.
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 or third year of planting. It isn’t advisable to let them produce fruit in the first year because all their energy need 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 can produce grapes for several decades.
- There are white, green, purple, red varieties of grapes 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.
Growing Requirements for Grapes:
- Sun: Full – need heat to ripen the fruit
- Soil: Rich & Well-Drained; Compost & Mulch around the plants
- Water: Keep moist while established; 1″ per week
- Growing Zone: Varies, generally 4-10
For the first few years, it can be helpful to keep a loose trunk wrap at the base of your grape vines. Once established, grapes are very hardy but for the first years of development, you want to protect the baby vines. You can purchase protective sleeves designed especially for grape vines, or you can use trunk guards designed for baby fruit trees.
Grapes require structure to grow upon like a trellis or arbor. To make the best use of your grape vine, place it on a sunny side of the house. The vine will soak up the heat during the summer to ripen its berries while protecting your home from the harsh summer sun.
More About Grapes
To learn more about grapes online, follow these links:
- Here are some free Grape Arbor Plans.
- Reformation Acres has great information about Which Type of Mulch is Best for Grapes
- Propagating Grapes 5 Ways from Practical Self-Reliance.
- If you have grapes, you can make this 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.
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 they are so tasty that they deserve a place in 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!
Growing Requirements for Gooseberries:
Gooseberries are actually woodland understory plants so they can take some shade without damage. In fact, they prefer afternoon shade in summer as they are really at their best in cooler temperatures.
If you are in growing zone 7, you can try growing jostaberries instead to see if they produce a little better for you. Jostaberries are a cross between currants and gooseberries and are pretty tough little buggers. They’re just as delicious, too!
- Sun: Full/Pt.Shade
- Soil: Rich & Well-Drained; Compost & Mulch around the plants
- Water: Keep moist while establishing;
- Growing Zone: Varies, generally 4-6
More About Gooseberries
To learn more about gooseberries, follow these links:
- How to Grow Gooseberries by Homestead Acres.
- Make this delectable gooseberry jam from Gently Sustainable.
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.”
Growing Requirements for Hardy Kiwi:
- Sun: Full/Pt.Shade
- Soil: Rich & Well-Drained; Compost & Mulch around the plants
- Water: Keep moist while developing; 1″ weekly once established
- Growing Zone: 3-9
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:
- How to Grow Hardy Kiwi from Practical Self Reliance.
- Hardy kiwi can be sliced and air-dried, dehydrated, and/or freeze dried. Here are instructions for dehydrating large kiwi from Purposeful Pantry, but the process is the same for hardy kiwi.
That’s Not All the Backyard Berries!
There are a lot of options when it comes to backyard berry growing so don’t be limited by just these!
Here are other easy maintenance berry bushes to try:
- Aronia produces firm, dark purple berries that are full of vitamins and anitoxidants. They can be juiced, turned to jam, or included in pies.
- Goji Berries are small, nutrient-packed red berries that form on twiggy shrubs that actually benefit the soil they grow in by sequestering nitrogen on their roots. These berries dry well and are easily integrated into smoothies and ice cream.
- Highbush Cranberry is a member of the prolific viburnum family and produces small, red berries that can be used as you would any cranberry.
- Sea Berry, aka, Sea Buckthorn is a bright orange berry brimming with Vitamin C and lots of flavor. It will make you pucker without a bit of sugar, but this berry is very well suited to jams, compotes, and juicing. You will need a male plant to produce fruit.
- Honeyberries, aka Haskap berries, should also be mentioned here because they’re a delightful substitute for blueberries if you don’t have the acidic soil blueberries love. Honeyberries don’t tolerate heat very well and can be a bit finnicky to grow, but once established they are reliable produces of delectable berries.
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.