There’s really nothing like having your own fruit on tap. It’s enormously satisfying to be able to grow and pick your own, there’ll be zero food miles and you know exactly what types of pesticides and fertilisers have been used. For the novice gardener, though, some kinds are easier than others.
Apple trees are very easy to grow and require very little attention – in fact, the UK has one of the best climates for apple growing in the world. You will, however, need a good bit of space!
A mature apple tree can grow up to 30 feet high, and will have a branch spread of around 30 feet as well, although you can get dwarf trees that will be considerably smaller. If you’re only planting one, then choose a variety that works well for both cooking and eating such as Cox’s Orange Pippin.
Another variety ideal for novice growers is Discovery, which has good disease resistance. Local nurseries will be able to advise on what will suit your soil type. A young tree should start to fruit from its second season.
Cultivated blackberries have fewer thorns and produce larger and more succulent fruit than wild ones.
However, unless blackberries are your ruling passion in life, I like to pick wild ones as I think the flavour is often better. It makes a great summer expedition rounding up the family (and the dog) and arming everyone (except the dog) with baskets to gather fruit. Just choose a sheltered hedgerow which hasn’t been contaminated with pesticides or pollutants from the road, and pick only the berries that are high up. These will have had the most sun and be sweetest, and will also be cleanest!
Blackcurrants are another fruit that’s rewarding to grow, as you get a heavy crop for little effort. They do well in containers, so are ideal if you have little space, but will need re-potting every couple of years to keep them healthy enough to fruit.
Use the fruit in jam or pies, or make your own cordial – the perfect summer drink when mixed with sparkling water. The two main problems with blackcurrants are keeping them well enough irrigated (they like a lot of water in hot weather), and saving them from birds!
The best way to protect them against airborne theft is to cover them with nets, supported on sticks so that birds can’t push against them.
Blueberries are an easy choice, but they are fussy about the type of soil they’ll grow in. You need an acidic soil (get a testing kit from a garden centre if you’re not sure), and they really won’t grow in anything else. If you have the wrong soil type, it’s best to plant them in containers using a special acidic compost.
They like to be watered a lot in dry weather, ideally with rain water as tap water will lose the pH value and reduce acidity. For the best results, plant at least two different kinds close to each other so they can cross-pollinate, and get ready with that bird netting!
Raspberries are very easy to grow, and if you’re tight for space you can train them along a fence line. They’re available in both summer and autumn-fruiting varieties, so if you plant some of both you’ll have fruit almost up to the winter.
They do need regular pruning to keep them fruiting well, and will need cutting right down after harvesting. The only problem with raspberries is that they can be a bit too successful – but if you end up with pounds and pounds, they make fantastic jams, compotes, puddings and coulis. They also freeze well, although they do lose their shape a bit once defrosted and are best used for cooking.
Strawberries are perfect for the space-challenged gardener! They really do grow themselves – in a couple of years’ time, you’ll be finding baby strawberry plants all over the garden. You can grow them in hanging baskets, containers, flowerbeds, window boxes…pretty much anywhere you like! They’re much better value than the bought variety, and will generally have a better flavour too.
Choose from summer-fruiting strawberries (the kind you buy in shops, with large, plump fruit), and perpetual strawberries, which have a longer fruiting season but bear much smaller and less juicy fruits. Once the fruit starts to develop, pack straw or fibre mats between it and the soil to prevent it rotting. You’ll also have to net plants to stop birds attacking the fruit. Plants really need to be discarded and replaced every three years, as older plants produce fewer and fewer fruits.
All images: Pixabay.