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Small Fruits
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter

email: mail@mintergardens.com

Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at http://www.mintergardens.com/


May 30, 2010

In a world of shrinking dollar values, isn't it nice to know gardening is one of the best investments you can make today? Just consider the small cost of perennial vegetables and small fruit bushes along side the almost instant return they provide.
Many folks are under the impression that perennial vegetables and small fruits are difficult to grow and require a great deal of maintenance. Well, compared to fruit trees, they take amazingly little care. Rhubarb, horseradish and delightful asparagus take little space and once mature, can be harvested easily for many years. All that's required is a little top dressing of manure each spring. If you have never tasted fresh rhubarb pie, spicy horseradish on roast beef or asparagus with cheese sauce, you have missed something really special!
Jerusalem artichokes are perhaps the least known of the small fruits. The tubers can be planted in fall or spring and left in the ground all year. As a matter of fact, they overwinter better outdoors. The tubers have a sweet, nut-like flavour and are great for salads and soups, or as a substitute for potatoes. They're truly delicious! They grow like sunflowers, and often you'll get the added bonus of lovely flowers and seeds.
Wet spring weather can cause mildew problems for both currants and gooseberries, but many newer varieties have come along to solve this problem. The 'Red Cherry' currant, the 'Black Consort' currant and from Finland, the 'Hinnonmaecki' gooseberry are all mildew resistant. 'Black Consort', by the way, has delightfully fragrant yellow flowers, making it a welcome addition to the landscape. Compared to other gooseberries, the 'Hinnonmaecki' is much less troublesome, and the berries are huge.
Blueberries are certainly my favourite small fruit for many reasons. Two year-old plants will start producing almost the same year you plant them, and will continue to increase production almost indefinitely. If you select early, mid-season and late varieties, the berries can be harvested over a long period of time and are easy to freeze for a special treat in winter. The new genetic dwarf varieties grow only knee high and produce fair sized, delicious berries, while 'Darrow' and ‘Chandler’, also new varieties, have enormous, delicious berries that are almost the size of a loonie! Blueberry plants are great ornamentals too; they have attractive flowers in spring, gorgeous fall colours and a nice twiggy look in winter. They are also one of nature’s healthiest foods.
Vine berries have been overlooked in today's gardens. Perhaps we have too many pyramid cedars around our back gardens and not enough fences and old walls. Thornless boysenberries, loganberries, blackberries and even the huge new tayberries need just a little support and sunshine to give you an almost continuous supply of delicious berries. They can be kept quite confined in space and if you espalier them, they are very attractive.
Speaking of vines, grapes have really take off as a home garden favourite, especially with the many new seedless varieties available, like 'Simone' and 'Coronation'. They can be trained along old fences or up over sundecks to double as valuable shade plants. The new purple leafed variety from UBC is a double delight with deep purple foliage and delicious blue grapes.
Kiwis have certainly made their presence known in the Pacific Northwest. The hardy, grape-sized fruits of the 'Ananasnaja' variety are far easier to grow, and self-fertile varieties like 'Issai' will produce lots of delectable fruit with little care. If you insist on having a little colour, the pink, white and green leaves of the male and female ‘Kolomitka’ kiwis are beautiful. 
Now is a great time to plant small fruits. They're not only an investment in flavour and freshness, but many of them also have delightful ornamental features. Small fruits are easy to grow and add a flavourful taste to any garden.

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