I really feel for those who have started to grow their own this year. It has been a real baptism of fire, if it would have been possible to have a fire with all that rain. For those of us who have been growing for a bit longer it has been difficult too but we’re a little more used to the vagaries of the weather and the fact that you ‘win some, you lose some’ when it comes to producing your own fruit and veg. I really hope any virgin gardeners out there don’t give up though because it really is so much fun . . . no, really it is. The weather isn’t always this bad and even if it is drought one minute and a deluge the next, there are plants you can grow which will cope.
Bush fruits are one of the easiest crops to grow and, if those on my plot are anything to go by, have loved the weather this year. I inherited some blackcurrants and a gooseberry when I took on the plot and then added a row of autumn fruiting raspberries. It’s quite addictive being able to pick your own super fresh berries. They can be really expensive to buy, partly because they have to be hand picked; they are also prone to fungal diseases and as a result are often covered in chemical residues. Once you’ve had the initial outlay for the plants they will last a good 10 -15 years and will save you so much money, producing enough berries to see you through the summer and fill your freezer with treats for the depths of winter. The other great advantage of having some bush fruits on your plot is the choice available is much greater than anything you’ll find on sale in the supermarkets. There are yellow fruiting raspberries and a whole range of hybrid berries.
Last year I planted a tayberry, a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. It was, I have to admit, an impulse buy from a local garden centre. Punishment for my impetuousness is being spiked when I try to get my hands on the glistening, jewel-like fruits. If I’d done a bit more research I’d have bought the thorn free variety, ‘Buckingham’.
Tayberries are biennial croppers, producing canes one year and fruiting on them the following year. This is the first year we’ve had a crop, well we had one tayberry last year, just one. We’d never tasted one before so I halved it to share with Wellyman. It was like a scene from the ‘Good Life’. It tasted good, looking like a darker version of a raspberry and with a definite flavour of blackberry. So, this year, when I saw lots of flowers appearing, I could feel the excitement growing for our first real harvest.
I’m happy to say the tayberry has been a great success. In such a wet year I would have expected possible fungal problems or rotting of the fruit but they’ve been fine. I have had to net them to keep off the blackbirds. One of their great advantages has been their steady cropping. Unlike the blackcurrants, which all ripened at once and led to frantic freezing sessions, the tayberries have been cropping steadily for nearly 2 months now.
Once they have finished fruiting in the next week or so I need to prune out the fruiting canes and tie in the new canes it has produced this year which will then produce fruit next year. And, other than this pruning, a good spade full of manure in autumn around the base of the plant and a sprinkling of seaweed meal in spring is all they really require. The one difficulty, is how to train the old growth and new growth so that access to the fruit is easy and pruning out the right canes is possible. The text books show neatly arranged branches in a variety of forms. The reality is somewhat different with canes that can grow up to 12ft and that have a mind of their own.
If you have the space you could train it so the old canes are growing to the left and the new canes are trained to the right or vice versa. This could work against a long wall or fence. I didn’t have the space for this so in the next couple of weeks will be faced with an interesting wrestling match with this year’s wayward canes which at present are flopping about in front of the plant. Bearing in mind my clumsiness, 4 10ft long bendy canes, covered in vicious thorns, and not wanting to become one of those embarrassing A&E statistics, ‘injured by fruit bush’, I plan to wear Wellyman’s DIY goggles, gauntlets and scarf wrapped around my face, which will make for an interesting sight in August. Wellyman has said he wants me to do this on a day he works from home, not so he can help, but so he can record the scene, and yes, he is open to bribes for photographs of the attire! Of course, if only I hadn’t been so impulsive and had bought the thorn free version none of this would be such a problem.