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Special facts about berries

Berries in a sandwich or cut into slices on a salad, that's baffling, it really is! And yet such strange behaviour can be justified! Because botanists have a completely different view of berries, than that of us gardeners.

It is amazing to find out that raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and so on are not actually berries from a botanical point of view - they are aggregate fruits. In botanical terms, it is tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and bananas which can be correctly called berries. And the largest berry in the world is really heavy: It's the pumpkin!

So you see, berries are actually very interesting fruits.

News from the berry garden

And how did your berry garden do through the summer? Blueberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries have been harvested now, blackberries are ripening now and kiwis follow in autumn. Generally, it has been a productive summer in terms of berries. Blackcurrants have faltered locally on account of the long winter because their early flowering time this year was not always ideal for adequate fertilisation. The changeable weather has clearly done redcurrant fruit good in particular: Sufficient warmth ensured good growth and the abundant and, above all, consistent water supply allowed the fruit to become plump and round. Huge fluctuations in ground moisture, caused by dry periods with subsequent abundant rainfall, could have allowed gooseberries, for example, to burst easily instead. In short: When you take a walk around your berry garden a few things might stand out:

Gooseberries:

It has been proven once again with gooseberries that the choice of variety is very important, since gooseberry mildew finds good growth conditions in warm and humid changeable weather such as we have had this year. The green fruit variety 'Invicta' in particular proved as before that it is by far the most 'invincible' as far as this meddlesome fungus is concerned. As a yellow fruit variety, 'Hinnonmäki' is worth recommending; for red fruits, 'Rokula' or 'Red Eva' are good. Rokula is good for people who aren't able to take a look at their fruit garden every day, because the fruit can be left on the stalk for a really long time and doesn't have to be picked at a very specific point in time. And for gooseberry fans who like an easy life, what about the 'Pax' variety, which is great because it is virtually spine-free and easy to pick. It doesn't have many thorns at all.

Garden designers have now rediscovered the ornamental value of gooseberries. As standard fruit trees lining paths they can help divide up garden areas or give visually interesting synchronicity to garden pathways. During the period when the fruit crop is ready for picking, they are a feast for the eyes. An important note for tree-form plants: Keep the branches short and the crowns loosened up and compact so that they won't break under the weight of the fruit. Supports for the crowns don't look very attractive in the garden. This also applies to gooseberry plants which are kept in tubs. Beauty, however, so often has its price: Gooseberry bushes are more productive than gooseberry plants in terms of crop.

What you should do now: If you have not yet pruned your gooseberries after the harvest, you should do this now as a matter of urgency. A sufficiently thinned-out gooseberry bush should allow you to reach inside it without pricking yourself. Then plenty of light can get to the plant so that the fruit can ripen well.

Currants:

The same applies to currants. Although they are not susceptible to mildew, problems with rust fungus can occur or - depending on the variety - there can be a tendency towards trickling of the berries. Keep an eye on this when you buy them from your local nursery or garden centre! Note the long harvesting time for currants, which - if you choose varieties cleverly - can last from the beginning of January to the middle of February. Six weeks munching potential, then freeze the rest or make it into jam.

'Red Lake', a red variety, ripens early and is not prone to setting failure; 'Rovada' ripens very late and produces high-quality large fruit on long stems. 'Primus' is currently the most important white variety. If you would like to try a pink variety, then look for 'Rosalinn'. Children love currants because they are relatively sweet when ripe. As for flavour: Blackcurrants are often considered to be too bitter to eat raw. But try 'Ometa' or the milder 'Bona' variety. This has a fine cassis aroma for use in cooking.

What you should do now: Blackcurrants should be pruned now if you haven't done so already. As with gooseberries and the hybrid cross of blackcurrants and gooseberries, the jostaberry, remove older, thick shoots which are too compact. They are generally dark brown or black in colour and therefore easy to identify. The light, young shoots on the bush should be encouraged, though, because they carry the weight of the fruit best. However, remove all weak ones and those which are not as thick as a pencil.

Raspberries:

Did you know that raspberries don't come just in red varieties, but in yellow and even black ones too? 'Golden Bliss' has yellow fruit and 'Black Prince' (American wild variety) has black fruit. 

Varieties of raspberry which don't need to be trained laboriously on canes are popular at the moment in gardens where 'things need to happen quickly' You can leave varieties such as 'Autumn Bliss' to grow like currants or gooseberries as a simple bush and then scythe the bush down completely after the harvest. This form of bush doesn't produce fruit until the autumn, but this has the advantage that it is hardly ever infested by the raspberry beetle and is therefore 'worm-free'. With raspberries, too, there is always something going on: A more recent late variety, which ripens well into September and has a fantastic aroma and extremely attractive, firm fruit which keep well, is 'Polka'.

What you should do now: Cut off the truncated raspberry shoots close to the ground immediately after the harvest, leaving no stumps. This will reduce the risk of your raspberries being infested by cane blight, a infection which enters plants through old branches.

Strawberries:

Strawberries literally need a chapter all to themselves. Varieties with the distinctive smell of wild strawberries are the most captivating. Old varieties like 'Mieze Schindler' are worth mentioning here, but aroma-intensive new breeds like 'Thuchief' are just as good. Varieties for solid strawberry beds, such as 'Florika', are great in this respect, too, since they are cross-bred with wild strawberries. Strawberry beds are a good ground-covering planting alternative for beds in partial shade. They are not, as is required with garden strawberries, replaced after two years, but can stay in the beds for between six and eight years. Solid strawberry beds flower and produce fruit via their leaves, which is why their fruit does not lie on the ground and cannot rot so quickly.

However, there are new strawberry varieties for tubs and boxes as well as for beds: Hanging strawberries are well-suited to hanging baskets. You can put three plants in one hanging basket. In boxes, however, keep the plants 20-25 cm apart. Receptacles with a water reservoir are best for providing the plants with a consistent supply of water. Fertilise with all-nutrient fertiliser or berry fertiliser, which contain more potash than window box flower fertiliser. The berries need this so that the fruit ripens better and has more aroma.

Lastly, the hanging principle also work in the opposite direction: You can vegetate smaller pieces of trellis work or stakes with climbing strawberries. You will have to tie the strawberries up, however, because they won't climb by themselves. Climbing strawberries can be picked from December and hanging strawberries can be harvested until January.

What you should do now: If your strawberries have been in their position for two years and are now looking shabby, you need to replace them. Now is the time to do this. If you don't plant them until the spring, the crop will be smaller the first year after planting. Ever-bearing varieties of strawberry and summer-fruiting strawberries can be planted equally well in spring since even then they will produce sufficiently good fruit crops.

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