I just love it when the first strawberries ripen and the berry picking season begins.
Memories of berry picking are still very strong although I am going back 60 years or more, but they were great times.
We got a few shillings to spend and there was always a pound or so of berries followed us home so mother could make us some jam.
It was an early rise at 6am then a cycle from St. Marys to the berry fields at Longforgan with me mate, so we could pick each side of the raspberry dreel, though I preferred picking strawberries as I always made more money.
As kids we noticed that there were always more berries on the east side of the rows which nearly always ran north to south. Later on as the wee kid got wiser, I could put it down to the prevailing winds coming from the west encouraging the fruiting shoots to lean to the east.
Nowadays life on my allotment berry field has come down a bit on scale, but the picking season goes on a lot longer.
It starts with my early strawberry Christine and sometimes Mae another good early, but brought on a fortnight earlier with extra warmth and protection under a low polythene tunnel.
Then the mid season varieties Elsanta and Honeoye ripen followed by the late varieties Symphony and Florence, and taking us into early autumn the perpetual Flamenco is outstanding. However to get the best out of the strawberries they need to be netted against birds, use slug pellets to control slugs and snails which seem to be around in packs this year, and to stop soil splashing onto the fruit the rows need straw laying up the rows.
Raspberry picking kicks of in early July if the weather is in your favour, but now we have good autumn fruiting varieties like Autumn Treasure and Polka, so we can enjoy fresh berries well into autumn. Anna has her work cut out finding ways to use our heavy crops with compotes, summer puddings, jams and eating fresh within a couple of days from picking. Raspberry maggots are still a real pain on both the raspberries as well as the blackberries, so an insecticide spray is needed at the sign of the first pink fruit then ten days later.
Blackcurrant Big Ben has been the first to ripen in early July and both this variety and my Ben Conan are laden down with huge crops bending branches down to the ground so it has been necessary to lay straw down to stop soil splashing onto the fruit.
Gooseberries are also showing very heavy crops so they also needed straw laid underneath the branches. Gooseberries are added to summer puddings, stewed for compote to add to breakfast cereals, great for mint and gooseberry jelly and brilliant in chutney, but my favourite use of the surplus is in my dessert wines. The redcurrant crop has a similar use in the kitchen but also for my home brew wines.
I think it must be seeing the result of last years fantastic summer which ripened up all the wood and now everything is cropping like never before. Chokeberries (Aronia Viking), saskatoons and blueberries are all laden down with very heavy crops this year. These will all keep me supplied in fresh berries right through summer into autumn but surplus berries in the freezer keeps can be used all year round.
Chokeberries (Aronias) and saskatoons are both destined for fruit wine production as they both make fantastic wines, though I lay mine down for three years to mature to get the best flavour from them. Saskatoons mixed with rhubarb makes brilliant jam. This combination works as the saskatoons are quite sweet so the rhubarb balances it as it is more acidic.
Fig bushes are following the same pattern with huge crop potential as I left the small fruit buds on over winter as with our recent mild winters they seem to survive and give me an early crop.
Wee jobs to do this week
Many early flowering herbaceous border plants such as oriental poppies, peonies, lupins and bearded iris are now finished so they can be cut back to leave more room for later flowering plants such as day lilies, oriental lilies, Agapanthus and delphiniums, though the latter are now also beginning to go past their best. Any space left can be planted up with a few bedding plants such as African marigolds, geraniums and Sweet William to keep the border attractive through summer.