Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
I DO not know anyone who does not like fruit and, within this vast range of delicious food, there will be favourites and in some cases there will be some that does not appeal to others. Within this group the popularity of some fruits will swing up and down and what is currently still very popular are blueberries followed by strawberries and raspberries.
Origin of the species
Most of this planet was originally covered with trees and within this habitat grew all the fruiting plants that we know today. All that has changed is that we gathered, grew and selected from these wild native fruiting plants, better yielding crops to which we attached variety names to keep them distinguished and separate from other selections. Of course, breeders have since come on board and speeded up the process by breeding new improvements in a shorter time.
The name exotic conjures up some desirable thoughts of unusual delicious fruits but if you think about it, exotic really refers to any fruiting plants that are not native and that is most of the fruit we enjoy. Our obvious native fruits are the blackberry, hazel and our native blueberry, the ‘fraughan’ or bilberry. The nice thing is that we can grow a whole range of exotic fruits ourselves and the choice is up to us to decide what and how much to include in our garden.
There is very little we cannot grow given the correct conditions, even bananas and pineapples but they are extreme examples and of course uneconomical but it does occur and is confined to those who wish to grow something rare and unusual. Next up the scale which needs the protection of a glasshouse or tunnel are apricots, nectarines, peaches and probably kiwi fruits and all these produce good crops most years in this country.
We used to grow thornless blackberries but one year we thought why do we put in that effort of growing and training them on wires to crop a small harvest when there are abundant blackberries out in the wild freely available to pick. We are thinking the same about loganberries as raspberries are slightly similar and much easier to grow. The raspberry is a native of Europe but I have not come across them in Ireland but found pockets of them in the UK and other parts of Scandinavia, so you would expect that it is one of the obvious fruits to grow, and they are simply planted 30cm (1’) apart in a row and 12 plants upwards will give you a reasonable crop.
The two big ones
Strawberries are a sure bet and people of all ages and skills can grow them. They might produce fruit within weeks of planting them but certainly the following few years will give you increased yields.
They can be grown in hanging baskets or similar, containers of all types and in the ground where they are planted around 60cm (2’) apart and ideally into ground cover matting so weeds will not smother the plants. It is then a matter of waiting patiently for the fruit to arrive but remember to protect from birds at this stage!
Blueberries are a different matter as they can be tricky to grow, for they need acid soils which occurs in some areas, but have to be grown in containers otherwise. Use an acid compost or mix with manure and then liquid feed with an acid food during the growing season and they should be fine and again protect from birds when they begin to ripen.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Seed potatoes were sold out around St Patrick’s Day but the desire to grow some potatoes continues and all I can suggest if you wish to grow some in containers is that you use some bought from a shop that sells eating potatoes. The varieties may not be the ones you would prefer but it would be nice not to miss the season.
The sowing of vegetables is in full swing now and seedlings should have appeared after about 14 days but some crops are sensitive to soil temperatures, such as carrots and parsnips, and may not germinate and you can then sow another batch.
Supplies of vegetable seeds are good and unlikely to run out but obviously get enough for your needs when on your way food shopping.