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.
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 ….
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.
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.
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.