Berried alive

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In the nutrition world, fruits and vegetables get lumped together all the time. They’re the things that are good for you, the things you’re supposed to eat more of. They occupy the same tier on the food pyramid, the same section of the grocery store, the same place in dieticians’ hearts. Fruits and vegetables are joined at the hip.

But here’s the thing. Fruits are better than vegetables. Way better. Fruits, at their best, are pretty much the finest thing the earth has to offer. A rich, buttery mango. A dark cherry that almost crunches. The first crisp Macoun from the fall apple crop. I like vegetables as much as the next guy, but no carrot will ever measure up.

Raspberries by the truckload

I had always taken it as an article of faith that stone fruits (botanically, drupes) are the best fruits going. The mango and cherry, as well as peaches, plums, and nectarines. When I met my husband, I was shocked – shocked! – to find out that his favorite fruit is ….

Drumroll please.

Blackberries!

As first, I was afraid this bizarre preference was a leading indicator of all-around questionable judgment, but I learned fast that Kevin’s soundness of mind is, in all other ways, to be absolutely relied upon. It’s just this one weird quirk.

It’s not that I have anything against blackberries. A good blackberry is a fine thing, but so many blackberries are not good blackberries, and even the good blackberries have those nasty little seeds. If the contest is between the very best blackberry and even a run-of-the mill mango, it’s the mango, hands down.

It has turned out, though, that Kevin is having the last laugh in the fruit preference department. If you’re trying to grow your own food in New England, the blackberry lover (whose second-favorite fruit just happens to be raspberries) has it all over the mango lover.

Our climate is not fruit-friendly. (And I do know that some of the crops we pass off as vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants are actually fruits, so don’t go all pedantic on me.)  Apples and peaches can, theoretically, be grown here, but people who’ve tried it roll their eyes and tell me it’s not worth the trouble. It seems people aren’t the only organisms who think fruits are better than vegetables. Insects, fungi, and disease-causing bacteria all agree.

Our garden's dead zone, reclaimed

The biggest clue to what can be cultivated successfully is what grows wild. All over the Cape, there are raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. If the wild berry varieties (grapes are berries, too) can grow by the side of the road, without fertilizer, irrigation, or annual pruning, surely their cultivated cousins can survive in my garden.

Our berry-growing attempt started last year, when our friends Al and Christl gave us some blackberry bushes. We put them on the upper corner of the garden, and they had a modest fruiting last summer. Then we learned the hard way that chickens are among the organisms that prefer fruits to vegetables. They ate every last one before we realized what they were doing. (“Marauding little bastards,” Kevin called them.)

We’re ramping up berries in earnest this season. From Miller Nurseries, we got strawberries (two varieties – one June-bearing and one everbearing) and blueberries (also two varieties, both lowbush). From our friends Geri and Emory, we got the cast-offs from their raspberry patch, which they’re thinning ruthlessly this spring. Al and Christl gave us another blackberry, to join the other two.

Up until now, our fruit-growing attempts have been limited to the brown turkey fig we planted last year, which seems to have survived the winter quite well and from which we expect a bumper crop of some seven figs this year, and a blueberry that puts the “high” in “highbush” – we couldn’t reach a good third of the harvest last year.

The strawberry beds, planted and netted

We had big plans for some apple and peach trees, but after a survey of our sun-challenged land, a cost estimate from a tree-feller, and a chat with the nice people at Miller Nurseries, we scaled our ambition back to one Fingerlakes Super Hardy peach tree.

The strawberries seem to be taking to the raised beds we built them in front of the house, and the raspberries went in what was a dead zone next to our garden that Kevin dug up and mixed with about a half-yard of compost. We hope to have a berry fruitful summer.

I’m still on the lookout for a mango variety that’s hardy to zone 6, but Kevin is happy as a clam.

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Comments

  1. Ohhhh, berries. My heaven on earth. Good vibes to your seeds and sprouts. If you need extra pickin' hands come fruit time, let me know! One for my mouth, three for the bucket. One for my mouth, three for the bucket :)

    In admiration of all your growing,
    Sara

  2. I am with Kevin, my favorite fruit is a blackberry and has been ever since I was a kid. I remember going down to the firebarn where they grew wild, and picking them every day they were in season. Yum! Sometimes my mom would cook a pail of them into jam, which never lasted more than a few days. Ah, the memories. Rock on Kevin!

  3. My definition of summer: a bowl of mixed berries / currants – raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants.

    Takes me back to picking fruit in my mother's fruit garden as a child.

    Heaven!

  4. I actually prefer vegetables to fruits, but eating fruit is supposed to keep the macular degeneration monster away (veg do not have the same benefit) so I'm trying melon this year along with all the fruit trees and cane berries. Blackberries are a weed here in Oregon- the state is being overrun by the Himalayan blackberry. So when I wanted berries, The Stern Voice of Reason put his foot down about blackberries. So I got raspberries and boysenberries. Haven't figured out where to stuff strawberries, so I don't have them yet, but they are in the plan somewhere. And I'll be honest….most of the apples are destined for cider….

  5. I couldn't agree more. Every opportunity I get I encourage others to plant fruiting trees and shrubs. I planted a Brown Turkey Fig two years ago and I am hopeful that this year we will get a good harvest.

  6. It's sweet that Kevin's tastes are so easily satisfied. Who doesn't love a low-maintenance guy?

    I would kill for fresh summer peaches but in the UK they're rare, and if unprotected only fruit in the hottest of years. We're awash in apples though, which at least freeze well so there's fruit in winter. Your strawberry beds look great. Here's looking forward to posts about bumper fruit crops. And that you get to them before the chickens do!

  7. Sara — Given that first-year harvests are generally slim, I may have to take you up on your offer to help pick next year instead! All in all, though, the 3-to-1 ratio is pretty good. I've been known to not pick at all — just stand in the raspberry patch and snack.

    Rick — Kevin says we need more readers like you.

    Fiona — Funny you should mention currants. They're next on my list, since it seems they can thrive without full sun. Next year …

  8. Paula — You must be some strange mutant strain of human. I didn't think there was a single solitary soul who preferred vegetables to fruit. But anyone who likes vegetables that much must be getting a full complement of nutrition. Sure, there are nutrients that fruits have in greater quantities (anti-oxidants, particularly, I think), but I make it a rule to never eat for the nutrient, as long as I'm getting a wide variety of healthful foods. (The exception: resveratrol in red wine is a fine excuse to uncork a bottle.)

    Chris — You're a year ahead of me on the Brown Turkey Fig. We planted it last spring and got four figs! Are you in a place where you wrap it over the winter?

    Jen — Kevin is definitely low-maintenance. Liking a fruit that grows like a weed is yet another example. Of course, he also likes foie gras …

  9. I live in the suburbs of Seattle, Wa and have had a little tip freezing but the fig doesn’t seem to struggle as a result. I do have a rather large vegetable garden and ejnoy the bounty that is produced there, but there is nothing more rewarding than seeing my kids come in the house with blackberry and blueberry stained faces.

  10. Chris — I’ve seen many a fig tree thriving in the Pacific northwest, so I’m not suprised that yours is surviving. And there is something about berry picking and childhood, isn’t there? Maybe it’s because most of us did it as kids, and we’re happy to see the next generation following suit, or maybe it’s because it seems like such a wholesome thing to do in a world where so little is wholesome.

  11. Kevin F. says:

    There are things we have little control of, like the seminal experiences we have as a child.
    There are those who believe these moments are felt for a lifetime.
    Perhaps as an Irish American kid sitting down to a hot cup of tea with toast, melting butter and a nice helping of blackberry jam was the one for me. I also remember hiking in the summer with little to eat and happening on a blackberry bush, and perhaps for me that elevated it to nectar-of-the-gods status. Either way… I regret not my happenstance, Unashamedly Blackberries!
    Kevin F.

  12. Kevin — Seeing as it all led to your marrying me, I also regret not your happenstance. Even as an adult, I’m not immune to the association between food and circumstance. I’ve grown to like blackberries more just because we’ve eaten them together, and you enjoy them so much. Pretty soon, I may even stop wishing they were mangoes.

  13. Tamar, think of it this way: when your apple trees finally bear fruit you will have the ultimate marriage made in heaven – apple and blackberry pies / tarts / crumbles in addition to a ready supply of blackberry jam.

  14. It’s sweet that Kevin’s tastes are so easily satisfied. Who doesn’t love a low-maintenance guy?
    I would kill for fresh summer peaches but in the UK they’re rare, and if unprotected only fruit in the hottest of years. We’re awash in apples though, which at least freeze well so there’s fruit in winter. Your strawberry beds look great. Here’s looking forward to posts about bumper fruit crops. And that you get to them before the chickens do!

  15. There is no doubt in my mind that the experiences I had picking blackberries with my dad didn’t make an impression on me. In our family food preparation and the gathering have made lasting impressions on me and have bonded my children to my parents. There is nothing more rewarding than working together, as a family, in the garden and then preparing a meal as a family.

  16. Great post! I’ve got 12 strawberry plants in the ground, hoping that they’ll send runners and go nuts over the next couple of years. In the meantime, they’re an open buffet for the Cape’s critters. I see the arches you made for the nets on your boxes … would you have a technique for netting berries on the ground? My berry patch is big and I’d rather not wrap the lot in chicken wire.

    Thanks!

    • Dave — Keeping animals out of plants is a continuing challenge out here by us, and chicken wire is the only solution we’ve come up with for things that aren’t in raised beds. Other, more experienced gardeners may have some ideas for you, but all I can tell you is that signs definitely don’t work. Good luck with your strawberries!