Season of soft fruitfulness

Ben Gairn blackcurrant - fruit not quite all ripe
Ben Gairn blackcurrants ripening

Summer is, as yet, the fruit season for me.  The orchard is a dream for the future; not a single apple this year, despite the good weather.  I have been picking currants and raspberries however over the past couple of weeks.  The original Ben Sarek black currants did pretty well, over 13 pounds in total.  Not up to their usual quality however: quite a few split, and smaller than usual.  It’s been a slightly odd year due to a relatively hot and dry early summer, and I think this affected the berries.  Maybe the skins hardened too soon, since the Ben Gairn currant, which had a really good crop, had a lot split, which made the picking over quite difficult.  I like to remove the remains of the petals as well as the stalks, but it was a slow messy job.  I’ve made two batches of jam and still have some in the freezer.  The Belorussian sweet currant  I didn’t even bother picking.  The fruit was the first to ripen, but was really tiny and split. Hopefully in a more normal summer it will do better.  So far the Ben Sarek wins hands down.  It’s only the first year for the other two to fruit properly however, so we’ll see how they do next year.  The black currant bushes in the front garden didn’t have many berries.  I haven’t been pruning them, and they are getting a bit leggy.  I’ll try and make a point of pruning them hard this year.  The cuttings in the fruit garden are now quite productive bushes.  I’ve decided that the other currant next to the original Ben Sarek black currant bush must be what my friend calls the ‘nancyberry’.  It grew as a seedling in my garden in Solihull (originally between the paving stones of the path as they do!), I think it is a blackcurrant-gooseberry cross.  There it had lovely large sweet berries, but here it sets hardly any.  I have been gradually removing the bushes again, since they obviously don’t like Skye.  By removing this last bush it will give me a suitable space for my Charlotte Russe mulberry bush.  That was a present from my Mum when she came up this spring.  I am quite excited about this.  The garden is still pretty exposed, but I’m hopeful that the fruit garden is starting to get a bit more sheltered.

raspberry jungle
Not so much fruit garden as raspberry jungle!

The raspberries looked really promising, but the initial picking was a  bit disappointing.  I had a awful lot that were wormy.  I have had this to a certain extent in previous years, but probably more than half were wormy to some extent.  I’m not one to be too fussy about a few insects, but this was ridiculous!  It’s been a bit damp to pick the berries this last week.  The second picking was a bit better than the first: not so many ripe ones, but fewer with worm problems.  I’ve made a big batch of strawberry and raspberry jam (strawberries from the shop as yet, although I now have some plants getting established so watch this space!).  I have about four different sorts of summer raspberries, I was given a load of canes of an unknown variety from someone locally.  They fruit well, but have been worst affected by the worms and have a slightly watery taste.  I have  another which does pretty well, some of the berries have a tendency to be slightly double, but good cosmetic quality generally.  Malling Jewel is in the tea garden, struggling in a still rather exposed position.  One that came with the house: Glen Prosen, which is starting to do quite well in the dog resistant garden but took a long while to get established,  this is the best tasting fresh I think.  I’ve found that neither of the autumn fruiting raspberries do very well in our short summers.  They are too late getting started in the spring to flower in time before the weather gets colder and the days shorter.

white himalayan strawberry
White Himalayan strawberry fruit

Talking of strawberries, just a note on the himalayan strawberries in the tea garden.  It looks like getting some other plants from different sources was the right thing to do, since despite being set back by my weeding at a time of hot dry weather a few fruit did set.  Unexpectedly they have turned out to be white.  They are like large alpine strawberries, difficult to remove from the stem, with a pleasant citrussy resinous flavour when fully ripe.  They become very soft, so easy to crush.  Hopefully they will fruit better next year if I can avoid digging them up at the wrong time!  They do seem to make a very dense ground cover, which was their primary purpose.

haskap berries
Haskap: dense fruiting in first year

I’ve now picked the last of the Haskap/honeyberries.  It is impossible to tell whether they are ripe or not, until you bite into them.  When ripe, they have a quite plummy sweet/sour flavour and are coloured right through.  Before fully ripe they are sharper and less pleasant.  I’m very pleased with how well they fruited, considering this is their first year.  I’m pretty sure they will make a rather nice jam when I get a few more fruit.  They should be pruned by removing about a quarter of the mature branches to avoid overcrowding and should live for decades.  I need to try and not let them get taken over by weeds in the orchard area.  So far they are a successful experiment I think.  I’ve saved a few seeds so I can try to propagate them, they should germinate well when fresh, so I may try sowing some straight away.  They also propagate by cuttings, better from summer cuttings apparently, but I may try some of the prunings this winter since that is easier for me.

I’ve not harvested the grapes in the tunnel, but have thoroughly thinned them out.  I don’t think I thinned them enough last year, so I have been a bit more brutal this year.  I collected the thinnings as much as possible, and had enough to make a small batch of green grape jelly.  I had contemplated making verjuice, but I may try that next year.  The new vine (a white, Zalagyongye, which for some reason I thought would be seedless but apparently isn’t) has just one bunch of grapes, but they are not so far along as the Boskoop glory, so I’m not sure whether they will ripen off.  The vine is growing well, so I’m hoping that it will do better next year.

I still have redcurrants and gooseberries to harvest.  The invicta has done quite well.  The new red gooseberries, Pax, have mostly dropped, and are rather small.  I have two new red currants in the tea garden: redcurrant cherry and rovada.  I don’t think any of the redcurrants from Solihull survived, but I have a couple of small plants in the fruit garden.  These were grown from cuttings taken from a tough little plant growing in a dry stone wall in full force of the sea winds.  I’d like to take cuttings from a plant I pass going to the shop which blooms profusely, but the berries seem to either nor set or quickly get picked by birds.  It is such a dwarfed plant that finding a decent bit of stem will be difficult.

blackberry Helen
Blackberry Helen fruiting well before the fly strike!

The blackberry in the polytunnel is just starting to ripen, as is the new one ‘Helen’ outdoors.  It looks like this may be a disappointment, as I have yet to try the berries!  They are quite prolific and large but seem to be very attractive to blue flies which destroy the drops and make them discoloured and unappetising!  It may be they are ripening too slowly due to the damp weather this week and may do better in drier weather.  They certainly have been early, but I am at a bit of a loss about what to do about this.  It looks like I will have to move the vine pretty soon anyway, since we are intending to extend the barn to where this is currently planted now.  Maybe I should try it in the polytunnel?  But that wasn’t the point!

 

17 thoughts on “Season of soft fruitfulness

  1. you have a very productive fruit garden despite the climate conditions, for me also gardening on an island with similar conditions it is both interesting and helpful reading how well plants have or have not done, so thanks, I must get around to doing some fruit and veg posts myself,
    Frances

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    1. Thank you. By mentioning the varieties it will mean I can look them up myself more easily as well. I’m not very good at keeping records which was one reason for starting this blog!

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  2. Wow good sized Haskaps! I have two bushes and both have done rather poorly (one was bought last summer and the other in the previous summer), both have produced small 1 – 1.5cm long fruits (less than a handfull per bush!) I was told that they can rely on the climbing Honeysuckle to pollinate them (which was great news so I made sure to get at least two varieties) and then found out that these plants all flower at very different times so mine didn’t really pollinate properly 😦

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    1. I got my plants from Lubera, a company I will definitely use again (despite them not being from the UK) as all the plants I have had from them were good sized and good quality and the delivery charge was minimal. When searching on their site it’s best to use latin names as their english names are sometimes a bit odd (Haskap = firstberries). The photo may be deceptive – not intended – the fruits were about 15mm long like yours. Not huge amounts, but encouraging for a first year. The bees also really loved the flowers which, although not scented look just like honeysuckle (as you’d perhaps expect).

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      1. The downside is that they tend to sell growing plants rather than the tubers/slips which makes them a bit more expensive. On the upside, a less experienced grower like myself got some well established sweet potato plants ready to plant out. I’m hopeful I will be able to over winter them myself to avoid buying new every year. So far they seem to be quite happy and are starting to scramble about nicely!

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    1. I have one each of three varieties: blue sea, blue moon and blue velvet. I gather they do need to cross pollinate, although I have read that there are parthenogenic varieties, but not available commercially.

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  3. Why have you not got apples this year?
    Sounds like you have, in general, got an amazing amount of fruit, though. I hope next year you’ll get loads of strawberries as well. And fewer worms.

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    1. Thanks. I’m not sure why I didn’t get apples. I had a good lot of blossom and the weather was fine, but none set as far as I can tell. I can only assume that it was so hot that the blossom was over too quickly for our Skye bees to do their business. (Too wet, too windy and now too hot!) I tell myself that they are only young trees yet and will soon do better. We are a bit marginal here for top fruit and I’m still not very sheltered, although that is improving, especially in the fruit garden. As you say I have been happy with the soft fruit and every year is different.

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      1. We’ve been here ten years. one tree in the fruit garden came with us from Solihull (Worcester pearmain) but that won’t be likely to ripen fruit here. It has sentimental value since I grafted it myself! The oldest new trees are in the fruit garden in 2011, including a Tom Putt apple which I have had one or two fruit off each of the previous two years. The orchard was only planted in 2016 so still early days. I did get one apple set last year, but it disappeared!

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      2. Yes, it is early days. My first tree went in the ground at the beginning of 2011 and is only just starting to fruit with any abundance. Maybe next year will be the one for yours 😊

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