Diversified subsistence farming is the guiding concept at Seven Trees Farm, and small fruits have become a critical part of our food cycle.
Small fruits include blueberries, raspberries, elderberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, kiwis, grapes, strawberries, and so on. Pretty much any fruit that doesn’t grow on trees – apples, cherries, peaches, pears, etc. With such a wide variety of fruit families, the chances of a successful overall harvest are greatly increased, even in adverse conditions. Another benefit is that, unlike fruit trees, these plants can often be tucked in odd corners of a growing space.
One part of our garden is usually a bit cooler and shadier than many garden crops prefer. Cool season plants do well here, and we’ve grown lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, chard, peas for years. But the new tiller has allowed us to easily expand into areas with better sun exposure for vegetables, and we have repurposed the upper garden into a berry patch.
Another factor in this direction is that we now use about a pound of berries nearly every day in our kefir smoothies. In previous years, the wild blackberry patch in the front yard, plus berries purchased from local farms, provided 80-100# in the freezer. Now we’re planning for about 400# (leaving a bit extra for cordials and wine).
Our current small fruit yard includes two 25ft rows of raspberries, one 25ft row and a 5x5ft patch of strawberries, 7 blackcurrant bushes, 2 blueberry bushes (we’ll add 6 more this season), and a giant rhubarb that we’ll split into two this fall. Other small fruits on our stead are a 25ft row of thornless blackberries along a fenceline, numerous elderberry bushes, and a big brambly feral blackberry patch in the front yard. We hope to phase out the wild berries in favor of more thornless varieties, but the persistence of those stickerbushes are a comfort when other fruits succumb to heat, cold or bugs.
Our climate is wonderful for small fruits, and the county extention program from WSU has some helpful publications on the topic. Our favorite reference, Growing Small Fruits for the Home Garden, is worth buying in paper, but a PDF version is available online.
WSU extension also hosts a Gardening in Western Washington online library with a page of links to more small fruit growing information.
If you’re in our neck of the woods, Cloud Mountain Farm Center has workshops, online info and plants for sale. Their fall fruit festival in October is a great opportunity to taste many of the small fruit varieties that do well in our climate, including some not usually available elsewhere.
Burnt Ridge Nursery, in Onalaska, WA (near Mt. St. Helens) has a wide selection of small fruits, common and exotic, for sale online. We’ve ordered from them multiple times and the plants arrive in good shape and grow well once planted.
But this year, since we have some thriving and tasty varieties to work with, we are jumping into the wonderful world of plant propagation to expand our stock. Check out the links and publications above to learn more about this nifty ‘trick’ and stay tuned for future posts about our own briar patch adventures.