Growing Soft Fruit

Regard soft fruits as an investment – some crop for a decade or more. But you may need to wait for your first crop - it is best not to allow them to fruit in the first year so that they can develop strong roots and therefore build up their 'firepower'.

If you’re growing established plants, replace tired specimens. If starting from scratch, compose a shortlist of your favourites. Then highlight the fruit that is expensive or hard to find in the shops.

Before ordering, check that the plants will thrive in your growing space. Ideally, order a range of varieties – an early, mid and late season blackcurrant, for example, will extend your harvest.

Frankly, soft fruits aren’t great for pots and containers. (Strawberries are your best bet). You get better results growing direct in the soil.

But if you fancy giving it a go, include some loam-based compost such as John Innes No.3, water regularly and feed every fortnight in the growing season – high-potassium feeds promote flowering and fruiting.

Gooseberries, I confess, are my big crush. They ripen early in the season, are magic in the kitchen, freeze well and are not widely sold. We inherited a sweet dessert variety on our allotment – variety unknown. The ripe fruit, warmed by the sun, are sensational.

In smaller growing spaces, stick to the ‘bush’ fruit such as currants, blueberries and gooseberries. Choose your sunniest spot, out of the wind. Black currants relish full sun. Red, pink and white varieties (try White Versailles) tolerate shadier spots.

As for blueberries, they are a fussy fruit. Use special ericaceous (acid) compost and water with rainwater. The Northsky or Northcountry varieties are best for containers.

In gardens and allotments, try ‘cane’ fruit such as raspberries. As a rough rule of thumb, they need sunshine for at least half the day. Autumn fruiting varieties such as Autumn Bliss are easiest to grow and get least hassle from birds.

Don’t bother with blackberries, another cane fruit. They can be rampant, and there are often wild blackberries growing nearby.

For something more unusual, investigate climbers such as the kiwi - good for pergolas, the goji berry and hybrids such as the tayberry - a cross between a blackberry and raspberry.

To buy your plants, here’s the top suppliers: Blackmoor list useful growing tips; Thompson and Morgan identify top varieties for containers; Keepers and Welsh Fruit Stocks offer excellent value. Be aware: the plants typically arrive as 'bare roots' (vs. containers). They will need immediate attention. Remove them from their packaging, and soak roots in water. If planting in the next day or two, cover the roots to prevent them from drying out. Or, if you are waiting longer than 48 hours, 'heel in' the plants. This means that you loosely plant them on a temporary basis. You want a well-drained, loose soil. Dig a trench, and you want to make sure that the roots are covered with the soil . If possible, choose a shady spot, perhaps on the north side of a building. Blackmoor suggests that 'Before planting dig in a handful of fertliser such as 'Growmore' also a light sprinkling of Magnesium Sulphate (Epson Salts) to each planting position'.