Thursday, 26 February 2015

An Alternative Fruit Patch

The bottom end of our allotment has never been very productive - unless you count couchgrass and nettles. When we first dug it over the soil was very dry and fully of woody matter and old roots, not to mention half an ancient greenhouse, in small pieces. It's also in the shade of an elder tree and next door's little shed for part of the day.

We grew outdoor tomatoes down here and they very quickly succumbed to disease. We grew artichokes here and they all died. We grew raspberries here, and even they didn't do well! The couchgrass seems to move in here faster than anywhere else but nothing else seems to thrive.

Last year we moved our compost bins to this area - it seemed a better use of land that won't easily grow crops, and it would help to stamp out some of the grass and nettles that kept invading. But that still left our overgrown raspberry patch to deal with. Half the raspberries had died and the rest were swamped in a jungle of grass.

We took out the old raspberry plants and dug the bed over three times to get rid of every last grass root we could find. Then we laid a new weedproof-fabric-and-woodchip path down one side of it, dug a trench along the top where it meets the next (derelict) plot, and put a border of weedproof fabric along the end of the plot too, so it should be much harder for new roots to find their way in.

I was keen to keep the area as permanent planting, since our three main rotation beds are working nicely now and perennial planting has benefits for the soil and wildlife as well as my workload! But I wanted to try some new fruits; I do like raspberries but I'm not a fan of the other usual berries and currants people tend to grow on allotments, and I fancied trying some new things I'd been hearing about. So our new fruit patch will feature... Japanese wineberries, Chilean guavas, and Cape gooseberries!

Botanist James Wong famously promotes a number of unusual crops, and his book 'Homegrown Revolution' encourages gardeners to ditch some of the 'old-fashioned' stuff we've been growing for generations but that is actually quite tricky in our climate (aubergines and cauliflowers, for example) in favour of more exotic crops that actually grow very easily here. I have only just bought the book this week, but the above fruits all feature in it - and I'm rather tempted by one or two others he recommends too - perhaps another year!

EDIT: Whoops, the Japanese wineberry isn't in the book - I think I heard about it in a conversation about unusual crops which centred around the book and assumed it was.

Japanese wineberry is similar to raspberry but with striking red stems and lime-green leaves, and the fruits are surrounded by a spiny calyx that means birds don't usually go for them. It can handle a little bit of shade, so the shed shadow shouldn't bother it. I'm not really sure what its growing habit is going to be like - I'm kind of expecting it to be like a bramble! - but I am well prepared to train it up some canes if need be...

Chilean guavas are small berries that ripen in the winter on a rather attractive evergreen bush. I bought these plants nearly a year ago when I saw them on sale and they have been waiting patiently in pots at home until now! (I have two more in large containers at home too, from which I got just a few berries last year, though I think I picked them before they were ripe!)

Cape gooseberries (or Inca berries, or golden berries) are perhaps better known, and sometimes seen served at wedding receptions and posh restaurants, usually with smoked meats. The fruits are similar to tomatilloes, but sweet and golden yellow, and come in a papery husk. They're grown as an annual in this country, so it's not exactly permanent planting, but it also means I can change my mind easily and try a cocktail kiwi or something here next year instead if I like... I've sown the Cape gooseberry seeds at home (no seedlings yet...) and I'll plant them out here in June or so.

I'm not really sure how big these plants get so that's all I'm putting in for now, but I hope my alternative fruit patch will fill up some more in time. For the moment I've put in some biennial flowers too - foxgloves and wallflowers I had in pots at home - and I might just put in some perennial achillea or summer bulbs or something... The biennials should have been planted out in autumn really so I'm not sure how they'll get on, but the part-shaded spot behind the shed must be about perfect for foxgloves so I hope they will self-seed there and I'll keep a small patch of them going.

I'm very glad this troublesome corner is under control again, and I hope the trenched and covered edges will help it to stay that way!


Roger Distill said...

It sounds great - well done, as always! You make me wish I'd been interested in growing food - well, more interested in growing plants generally!

Nome said...

Thanks :-) It's never too late! xx

Anonymous said...

Looking great! My first time by - will return soon! Good luck with those berries!

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