June and July were the traditional times for soft fruit picking on the farms, but today we can grow our own berries in our gardens and allotments.
The berry season starts early as growers cultivate strawberries and raspberries under tunnels, and using a range of different varieties and planting dates with cold stored strawberry runners the season can extend well into the autumn. Although most amateur gardeners do not use walk in tunnels we can still enjoy a long season with a range of different varieties and some low polythene tunnels for the earliest strawberries.
In a good sunny dry season the crops can give a heavy yield and this means a commitment to picking, and processing for fresh fruit to eat, fruit for jam and fruit for the freezer.
The hard work and long hours are rewarded with fresh fruit over the whole summer, jam, compote and frozen fruit available about all year round and then working outdoors on a sunny day is not a great hardship.
Looking back a few years (over sixty) I remember being introduced to our local berry field in Dundee amongst a wee gang of tearaways from St. Mary’s. It was pure magic. The farmer was happy to pay us a half penny a pound for picking. At eight years old I became a working man with some money and a belly full of fresh raspberries.
It must have made an impact on me as I have been growing raspberries and strawberries ever since.
Tayside and Angus are famous for their soft fruit crops, and now new fruit crops are accompanying the traditional rasps and strawberries. Blueberries have made a major impact, and now honeyberries and cherries are being tried out quite successfully.
The chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa is also being grown as the black berries are very high in anthocyanins and vitamin C, but the fruit has an astringency so is best processed in jams, compote and fruit juice, though I also use the fruit for one of my best home brew wines.
Blackcurrants have also made a huge impact with local growers. Over the years I have grown many different varieties of blackcurrants with my favourite at present being the Ben Conan. It has quite large berries and is quite sweet when fully ripe. It also makes a fantastic wine.
However it now has competition with the new Big Ben variety, a very heavy cropper bred for its large size and extra sweetness at the James Hutton Institute. So far it is proving to be sweeter than others, but I have not found it to be any bigger than Ben Conan, though my bushes are still young and berry size could be better in another year or so.
However it is lovely eaten fresh straight from the bush.
Gooseberries are another popular crop and the new variety Iona bred at the James Hutton Institute in Invergowrie is an absolute cracker. This red gooseberry is mildew resistant and has very few thorns so picking is a pleasure.
I also grow Invicta, a yellow variety which has sweet delicious fruit that makes it a must to grow, but picking always ends up with a bloodbath on the hands as you strive to pick those last few berries hidden away deep in the middle of the bush.
Research at James Hutton has been intense with Nikki Jennings the soft fruit breeder creating new varieties of raspberries both for normal season as well as autumn fruiting.
At present my Glen Fyne is proving to be an excellent summer fruiting raspberry, but now I can extend the season with Glen Dee which crops later. Autumn fruiting raspberries have also seen many new cultivars appearing with both Autumn Treasure and Polka very promising.
I have had Polka a couple of years and found the very large fruit to be of excellent quality and much bigger than my Autumn Bliss.
Figs and saskatoons may not yet have taken off in Scotland, but both have been very successful with me so maybe in time they will have their day.
Wee jobs to do this week
Summer bedding plants in tubs and hanging baskets have a limited supply of nutrients so this is a good time to give them a boost with some liquid feed every two to three weeks to keep them growing as flowering can exhaust them in mid season.