Rural diversification. Sell fruit as a rural business in the countryside
Making money in the countryside
Growing soft fruit - blackberry,blueberry,gooseberry,strawberry,raspberry,redcurrants
Growing soft fruits
Growing soft fruits: raspberries
Growing soft fruits: protection
Selling soft fruit
Growing and selling strawberries
Looking after strawberry beds
Growing soft fruit is a traditional country occupation that has
spread to suburban gardens and town allotments.
raspberries and currants all taste of Summer and part of the joy of
picking and stalking these fruits is the delicious juice that stains.
Convert the fruit into jams and jellies and you have captured the
flavour of Summer for the winter.
Making preserves is another
traditional country pursuit that has gone into urban kitchens. You
can grow the fruit on an allotment, take it home and make jam
that is quite indistinguishable from that made by the country
dweller who simply walks up the garden.
If you do not have plants
that are already established and growing, you have one of two
choices: you can either plant from scratch or you can bypass that
bit and buy the fruit from a local market. Either way the aim is to
put the finest available fruit into the preserving pan. Fine jelly is
made from fine fruit. When you are picking the fruit it is always
worth picking at the peak of perfection: there is no point in
letting the plant work on to produce overripe fruit — that energy
is put to better use producing another berry.
If you are fortunate enough to live in Scotland, you may well be
able to pick these delicious fruits growing wild.
These wild berries
have more flavour than the bigger, cultivated ones. However, if
you do not live near such a delicious wild crop or would rather not
trust that your competitors will not get there first, you must grow
Raspberries need good drainage but prefer heavy soils
in which to grow. They thrive on well rotted manure so put a good
layer in the bottom of the trench in early autumn. It must be well
rotted; many manures, especially pig manure, will scorch and kill
roots if the manure is not sufficiently aged. The best time to plant
the canes is in early Winter. If you have to leave it until the spring,
the canes will need special coddling should the summer be a dry
Make sure that the canes are from a virus-free crop. Raspberries
are especially susceptible to virus attack. Whole varieties have been
wiped out by these attacks. Ask your supplier for a Ministry of
Agriculture certificate to prove that the stocks are certified. The
canes should be one year old.
If your site is well prepared and free
from perennial weeds, the canes should establish themselves well
and quickly. Cut the canes down to one foot in height in February.
In May apply some good compost or well rotted manure all over
the rows to a depth of one or two inches. Raspberries like being
mulched as their roots are fibrous and shallow — they rarely reach
down more than six inches. You can erect a trellis-type arrangement
on to which the growing canes can be tied. Or you can put
wires stretched horizontally either side of the canes: with this
arrangement you do not have to tie the canes in as they lean on the wires.
It is possible to be picking raspberries through into the autumn
if you plant some autumn-fruiting varieties.
In any case, whenever
the fruits are ready the birds will be waiting. Birds seem to have a
never-failing appetite for raspberries. Sometimes they strip the
whole berry and at other times they simply steal one side, leaving
odd-shaped half berries all over the canes.
You can either put up a
cage that you can walk into to pick or you can drape the canes
with net that you lift up when you are gathering. The most
decorative and romantic rows of raspberries are those covered with
old net curtains. The cream net floats on soft breezes, the deep
reds and greens gleaming through. Funnily enough this kind of net
is much easier to deal with than the specialist nets made for the
job. The very fine net does not allow pieces of leaf and cane to
poke through and catch the net. However, if you stick to the net
curtains you may well be limiting the size of your rows —
horticultural net is much cheaper to buy. You can either put up a
cage that you can walk into to pick or you can drape the canes
with net that you lift up when you are gathering.
Whether you aim to sell raspberries fresh or to process them, you
should aim to pick and dispose of them very quickly.
not keep at all well when fresh. Put into little plastic punnets for
resale, the bottom layers immediately start to produce juice and
within hours can go mouldy. The best answer is to pick early in
the morning and to deliver them first thing to the retailer, giving
him all day to sell the punnets.
It is when they have to stay overnight
that problems really set in. 'Pick your own' is a very established
way of selling soft fruit.
The advantages are that you do
not have to pay and look after the labour picking your fruit; the
disadvantages are that the public is often unaware of the damage
that children and careless adults can do to a crop. Also if you
employ the labour, you can specify that all the ripe fruit on a cane
must be picked; casual picking leaves ripe fruit to go mouldy and
If you do allow 'pick your own', then you
must check that the plants are being kept in good shape at the end
of the day. If you limit the access to a few rows rather than the
whole crop you will get better picking, but no-one wants to feel
that they are having to struggle to find enough, so you have to
strike a natural balance.
Summer would not be summer without strawberries and cream.
You can choose from giant, fist-sized berries down to the tiny
Alpine strawberry. Strawberries can grow in herbaceous borders or
in special beds — their low ground covering habit can make them
suitable in a low-maintenance garden — and the trailing varieties
look stunning on patios and terraces. You can grow them in tall,
hollow pillars — cascades of green with succulent red fruits.
plenty of manure, the obliging fruit produces pounds of berries
from a single plant. We grow Alpine strawberries as path edgings.
One Alpine strawberry, then a lemon balm plant and so on. (The
smell of lemon in the evening is beautiful and as it is a herb, it is
also a crop.) The Alpine strawberries produce right through the
summer and in sheltered spots you can even find the odd berry in
winter. Like raspberries, the strawberry is a favourite with the
birds, although at least some of the fruits are hidden under the
To start a strawberry bed, dig in plenty of manure.
soft fruits require food and water to perform to their best ability.
Strawberries usually increase by runners. Runners are the little
plants that they send out which root into the ground and start to
grow on their own. As strawberries are naturally woodland plants,
you can make them feel really at home by applying plenty of leafmould.
If you can plant the new plants in August, you will get an
excellent crop next year. When your plants have flowered, apply
straw or polythene as a mulch. This keeps the fruit off the ground.
Netting will keep the birds off.
If you decide to grow Alpine
strawberries, the simplest way is to buy them from a nurseryman
as little plants. However, seeds planted in March will fruit the same
year and they are clearly much cheaper. By selecting different
varieties, you can pick strawberries well into the autumn. If you
are selling the fruit into the retail trade, make sure that the berries
are quite dry before putting them into punnets. Wet fruit rots
quickly. We live in a strawberry-producing area and the shops are
empty after a shower of rain.
Strawberry jam is traditional with scones and cream. It is delicious
if well made and always sells well. When you work out the
costings on producing jam from your strawberries, make sure that
you are not turning your produce into jam when you would
obtain a far higher price for the strawberries by selling them direct.
If your strawberries are ready before or after the general crop, you
will receive a considerable boost in retail price.
Blackcurrants are the highest yielders of Vitamin C among home-grown
Many acres of blackcurrants are sold on contract to the
producers of blackcurrant drinks. Blackcurrant jam must be well
made or the currants are tough. It has been used traditionally to
soothe sore throats and as a cold remedy. It does not sell in
anything like the quantity of strawberry or raspberry jam. The fresh
fruit does not sell in such quantity either through retail outlets. In
fact, it is often not stocked very widely when in season and it may
well be worth advertising to bring in custom.
There are new
varieties that look like large blackcurrants available now. They
taste of very little when eaten raw but when made into jam, they
taste of blackcurrants. It is worth checking with the supplier of
your plants what the varieties you are considering were bred for:
these new varieties, which are heavy-yielding plants, would be
ideal if you are intending to make jam but they would not bring a
repeat order from a customer who eats them raw.
There are two major enemies of blackcurrants: big bud mite and
reversion. If your plants do not fall prey to these, they may well
fruit on happily for some thirty years. Plant new bushes during the
winter, as early as possible. A mulch applied around them in May
will protect the roots which are very near to the surface. They
dislike being weeded.
Blackcurrants are produced on wood that
grew the previous year so pruning must aim to cut out as much old
wood as possible and to keep the required wood in a reasonable
shape for harvesting. Many rows of blackcurrants are now harvested
by machine. It has become popular to encourage a 'pick your own'
trade to clear the bushes after the machines have passed as they
often miss branches and sometimes whole plants. This kind of
'pick your own' will probably have a limited life as very few
customers enjoy walking along endless clear rows to find the
occasional loaded bush.
There is obviously more interest in picking fruits such as
strawberries and raspberries that can be instantly consumed. However,
often the clients for 'pick your own' currants are more knowledgeable
than those who pick their own strawberries and raspberries.
As the pickers may well appreciate what they are doing, it
is worth considering 'pick your own' for currants even if you
decide against it for the other fruits because of possible damage.
For redcurrants, and for yellow and white currants, the aim in
pruning is not the same as when working on blackcurrants because
these currants fruit on old wood.
You can grow them as bushes or
even train them against a wall or fence as a cordon. They are best
planted in November. Cover the surrounding soil with straw — up
to one foot deep — directly after planting. The shape to aim for
when pruning is an open goblet.
Birds are even more cunning with
their consumption of these currants. They actually consume the
flower buds if allowed to. Tying black thread between the branches
helps or the bushes can be put into a fruit cage. When the fruit is
ready, pick the whole sprig.
Although the market for these currants
is rather more specialist, it is there. Certainly if you make
redcurrant jelly, it will sell very well in the weeks approaching
Christmas. If the fruits are for retail sale, then as long as they are
dry when picked they will keep fairly well.
If you are intending to make jam from any of the currant
family, you will be faced with the time-consuming chore of removing
the currants from their strigs. Freeze them, put them into a tin
and shake furiously. The stalks and currants will separate, making
the job much easier. There is no difference in the jam you make. If
you freeze the currants on open trays they take hardly any time at
all. Of course, if you are intending to make jelly then you can
leave the currants on their strigs — it will not make any difference
to the final result.
Usually we put the remainder of currants left
after straining them to make jelly into apple chutney. For this we
have to go back to strigging the currants.
Gooseberries are the first of the soft fruits mentioned that actually fight
back when you pick them.
The other fruits may well leave stained
fingers as proof of consumption but the humble gooseberry actually
inflicts wounds. It is worth bearing in mind from the outset that if
the plant is encouraged to grow openly you will have a much
easier task at harvest.
As mildew is a problem in low-growing
bushes, select ones that are growing on a short piece of trunk.
Plant it so that the stem is above the ground. Gooseberries like
being planted in November but will survive if planted with care
any time up until February. Cover the surrounding soil with straw
to a depth of one foot in May. The first berries will appear around
Whitsun. If you pick the biggest of the berries then the other ones
will have more room to grow and receive more nourishment.
really large dessert varieties, the berries must be allowed plenty of
room. The most delicious of all the gooseberries are the giant deep
red ones, just at the point of bursting with sweet juice.
jam for some reason is rarely a fast seller. Although it is quite
delicious as is gooseberry curd, this like all the curds does not keep
well and can only really be sold to delicatessens, smothered in 'sell
by' dates. The aggravation is probably not worth it. Making for
your own consumption certainly is. It can, of course, make your
reputation if you are selling cream teas. A plate of fresh scones, a
bowl of home-made clotted cream and small pots of lemon, orange
and gooseberry curd — Mmmmmm.
Taking the gooseberry into
catering for lunches or buffets leads to gooseberry pies, gooseberry
sauce with fresh mackerel and possibly glazing the top of small
round raised pies with a thin layer of bright green gooseberry jelly.
Blackberries are another fruit that can fight back.
With some varieties the
thorns are bred out, but somehow some of the flavour seems to be
lost, too. Blackberries are excellent to grow up fences and walls.
Even one plant will produce excellent fruit as blackberries are self-fertile.
They are best planted in November but can take being
moved as late as March.
Cut the plant down to nine inches above
the ground and arrange whatever form of support you prefer.
You can train pairs of fruit to grow over trellis over a garden
path. The thornless varieties are certainly worth considering for
this type of location. You can, of course, use the thorns to your
advantage by planting them to cut off a route for marauding cats
or similar nuisances.
Blackberries are very attractive plants to
watch growing. They always seem to have first flowers, then tiny
green berries, followed by larger green berries and then varying
sizes of black ones — this progression starts in late August and goes
through well into October.
This obliging plant will happily produce
more of itself if you poke the end of a growing shoot into
the ground. Do this in late summer and by November you can
sever the new plant from its parent and move it.
berries can be sold as dessert fruit. The rest of the crop can be
processed into jams, pies, chutneys and wines. You can even dry
the young leaves of the blackberry to make a sort of tea.
To be quite different, why not grow the great American favourite: blueberries?
The plants are in fact related to our native blueberry and, like
their wild ancestor, like a peaty soil. As they are very ornamental,
they can be grown in a herbaceous border or as part of a decorative
plan in the soft fruit area.
Dig plenty of peat into the ground
before planting and, for once, do not apply manure. Blueberries
berries fruit on the tip of the last season's growth so the aim in
pruning is to remove old stems and encourage the fruiting ones.
They are quite hardy and disease-free. Apply a general fertiliser in
March and when harvest-time comes, be prepared to go repeatedly
over the bush removing fruit as it ripens.
As there are few blueberries
cultivated in Britain, you may find the simplest market is
to put them into punnets and sell them to retailers. They also
make excellent jam and as our American cousins claim, excellent
pies. They go extremely well with cheesecake.