wild strawberry
“God might have made a better berry, but He never did.” Author Unknown
Blackberry cobbler-10
The First Reader is sneaky
rhubarb, strawberry, and both!
Jammy Goodness

So I made a four hour round-trip yesterday, for the sake of berries. It was a lovely day for a drive, and I had the pleasure of meeting a dedicated young man, his baby, and his budding market garden. But why, during this busy time of my life, did I take the time and spend the money, just to pick up berry plants?

I’ve had a berry obsession for most of my life. I can’t recall who first taught me that strawberries, blackberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, raspberries, cloudberries, cranberries (note: these were actually lingonberries), and many more were deliciously edible. All I can remember are long summer days spent getting scratched to heck with a bucket in one hand and the other full of incredibly juicy, flavorful, sweet little bites of joy.

dewberry on granite
This table-sized rock was covered with brambles and ripe berries. The little Dewberries are a sweet wild variety of Rubus.

Summers passed, and then I was inducted into the art of making jam. Jellies, chutneys, and preserves followed. I’ve dried berries, frozen them (the simplest way to preserve them! Having a few gallons of berries in the freezer brings some summer sunshine into the winter drear) and made more pies than you can shake a stick at. Along with the berry obsession grew a desire to have my own berry bushes. At the Farm in NH I cultivated the wild berries in subtle ways, and planted things we didn’t have already. I had a goal, there, of growing something like 14 different varieties of berries. Here in OH, I have just slightly more than half an acre, rather than 6 acres (of land that wasn’t in forest) so I probably won’t manage that many. Even with intensive methods, which I will use.

If you, like me, have a berry obsession and you don’t want to pay the prices for berries in the store – or you prefer the higher quality of berries you’ve grown yourself! – I highly recommend the Backyard Berry Book to start, and to start the year before you plant. I’m not, but… I’m working under some time constraints. You can start right away, it just may take a little more labor than doing it the slow way. I do highly recommend having your soil tested, at the very least. You can do this through your county ag extension. And get familiar with your land. Me, I’m reveling in a flat, nearly level plot with nice clay-loam combination soil. And no rocks! After twenty years in New England, I expect to hit a rock with every shovel-thrust into the garden. It’s almost enough to make digging fun.

I’ll be planting this coming week, and using a mulched cover to keep the plants happy and relatively weed-free. I’m also a lazy gardener… but that’s a whole separate post. I’ll be putting in the plants, putting down a layer of cardboard (from moving boxes, a handy way to dispose of those), and a layer of wood chip mulch on top of that. The organic mulch will break down slowly over the year, adding some nutrients to the berries as they do, and necessitating my replacement of it in the spring. But I’d rather do that than use a plastic mulch. I’ll do this around the fruit trees, as well.

I have a whole list of things I’d like to grow. But for the time, this is what I’ve got:

  • Blackberry
  • Triple Crown
  • Raspberry
  • Anne
  • Prelude
  • Heritage
  • Black (wild cultivar)
  • Blueberry
  • Patriot

I’m planning to add more blueberries, although I’m still unsure how well they will do in my part of Ohio. I also want currants and gooseberries. Lingonberries will do poorly if they will grow at all – it’s too warm, and not acid enough, to make them happy. Instead, I’ll plant a highbush cranberry. I’m debating elderberries, as they prefer wet feet, and I don’t have any damp patches. Also, they quickly spread and can be weedy. I’ll pick up a grape or two, which ought to be interesting. I never had luck growing grapes in NH, there we picked wild grapes. And of course, strawberries! I’ll be getting everbearing strawberries, as they will fruit all season long. They don’t bear as heavily as June strawberries, but I’d rather have a trickle from June to October than a flood in just a few weeks.

Something I’m factoring into my plans is the picking and preserving process. If you want to beat the birds (and rabbits, and raccoons, and squirrels, and neighborhood kids…) to the berries you need to pick early and often. Personally, over the years I’d either be ready to make jam then, or go ahead and freeze the lot, then make jam from frozen berries. Freezing the berries actually makes jellying easier, as the cells lyse and release all the juices nicely. But if all your fruiting is happening at once, you can drown in a tsunami of delicious fruits, with many going to waste. So it’s far better to look at spreading your season over the whole summer – early-bearing raspberries, late -bearing blackberries, and some mid-season blueberries, for example. You can see why starting your plan and research a year early is a good thing!

Service berry
Serviceberry close to ripe, a wild fruit that is often found in landscapes for it’s very early flowers and colorful fall foliage, but few realize it also bears a sweet berry with mild flavor.


10 responses to “A Berry Obsession”

  1. I am totally jealous. I love cultivating, picking, eating.. everything about berries. But between all the critters here and the rocky landscape, we decided to forego edibles. (The deer ate the neighbor’s new pear trees right to the ground.)

    I’d expect your blueberries should do fine. They grow well in Michigan and in Missouri, so why not Ohio? Have you considered boysenberries? I used to pick them wild in Michigan. So big and juicy. OMG. :drool:

    Good luck with all your yummy new plants!

    1. The hope is since our lot is almost entirely enclosed with a chainlink fence, we can let the dog have free roam and she’ll keep the deer at bay, along with bunnies. In practice? I’m not sure. We are in a neighborhood (not really a subdivision) but we’re almost at the end where there are a lot of woods.

      Boysenberries are definitely on the list, my great-grandmother grew them and they loom large in my childhood memories!

      1. if not? I can get a KY hunting permit and come visit…. 😀

  2. I wish I had some land to do this type of gardening. Isn’t possible in my current location and my future location isn’t much better for that. Dreams and plans right now.

    1. You can grow berries in containers – I picked up blackberry “Baby Cakes” which is a dwarf thornless developed specifically for patio container growing. I’ve done hugelkultur in containers, and likely will be doing that again with that berry and some herbs on our deck. Also, with intensive gardening methods, people have produced enough garden on a tenth of an acre to feed themselves. It’s a lot of work, though!

  3. Berry nice! (Somebody hadda say it.)

  4. John in Philly Avatar
    John in Philly

    We have a mix of everbearing raspberries, including Heritage.
    Heritage is a good reliable producer, and although not thornless, the fairly small thorns aren’t a problem.
    And they are easy to take care of, cut them down to just a couple of inches above the ground in early spring and they will grow up and yield berries in the same season.
    If possible, plant the raspberry plot where you can mow around the plot. That way the escapees are easily dealt with, or transplanted.
    We pick and freeze, it is more pleasant to make jam when it is cooler.
    Frozen berries will give you a lot of free run juice upon defrosting, and the red raspberry syrup we make from the juice has the perfect blend of tart and sweet. But it isn’t for the sugar intolerant.

  5. If you like blueberries, try huckleberries — they taste fairly similar and have similar cultivation requirements. And the jam is highly salable as a rarity.

    1. I love huckleberries. Grew up with them in OR on the coast. Reds and blues.

  6. That sounds just wonderful.