Grow Your Own Goji Berries

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees and roses by planting them now. A wide selection is now available.
    • Witch hazels bloom in the middle of winter with their interesting and showy, fragrant yellow or red blooms. One might look good in your garden.
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, are available now for planting. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.

Grow Goji Berries!

Long cultivated in China and other parts of Asia, Goji berries are a newcomer to the American health-food scene. Their reputation as an “exotic superfruit” is spurring their growing popularity. They are known to be rich in nutrients and high in antioxidants to protect and strengthen the immune system. Goji berries are even being suggested as a powerful anti-aging food.

“Wolfberry” is the most commonly used English name for the berry whose botanical name is Lycium barbarum, while the name, Goji, is close to the Chinese pronunciation for the word. “Tibetan goji berry” is the name used to market the berries.

Goji berry plants produce small, beautiful white and purple trumpet shaped flowers from June through September. As the summer progresses the flowers mature into bright orange-red Goji berries from August to October, depending on your location and exposure. When ripe, the small, oblong berries are tender and must be picked carefully or shaken from the bush into trays to avoid spoilage. The fruits are preserved by drying them in the sun on open trays, or in the oven, or by using a dehydrator.

When dried, they resemble small, red currants. Their taste is unfamiliar but pleasant and dried fruits can be used in trail mix, smoothies, homemade protein shakes, salads, yogurt, cereals, oatmeal and many other snacks or meals. Fresh berries can be used to make healthful tea and juice. Even the young shoots are edible. Goji berries have long been used in traditional medicine and food in Asia.

Choose a location for your plants that receives full sun. Plants require good drainage and do best in rich soil with plenty of organic matter. The more sun they get the faster they grow and the better the berries will be. But Goji berry plants are tough and can survive in just about any climate and soil condition.

They are a deciduous shrub growing 8-10 feet tall and spreading wider. They have a tendency to vine out and benefit from trellising. Bushes will produce berries their second year, but peak berry production occurs in the 4th or 5th year.

Gojis have been grown in China for thousands of years in a wide range of climates. And they have been naturalized as an ornamental and edible plant in the UK for nearly 300 years. These hardy plants can tolerate low temperatures down to –20 degrees F and highs over 100 degrees F. They are commercially grown in China in alkaline soils, although plants seem to tolerate a wide range of soil pH. They are somewhat drought tolerant once established but summer irrigation will promote rapid growth.

Gojis can be successfully cultivated in all temperate regions of North America. Your success may vary depending on your growing conditions.

Enjoy growing this hardy and nutritious plant!

Flavorsome Berries

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Apples and pears are the easiest fruits to grow in our area. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a continuous harvest from late summer into winter.
    • Spring vegetables and flowers can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try broccoli, cabbage and lettuces, pansies and snapdragons.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Fruit trees can be pruned this month. If you’re not sure how, take advantage of one of the fine classes being offered this month.

Abundant Berries

Some of Nature’s most generous crops of fruit come from berry vines. Whether you like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or gooseberries, you can harvest bountiful crops of them if you plant a row of vines or bushes in your garden. The climate in and around Willits is suitable for almost all types of berries, so don’t be caught without your own fresh berries this summer!

Blackberries are known by many names: boysenberry, nectarberry, loganberry or olallie berry to name a few. The berries range in color from jet black to red, from sweet to tart, and all have distinctive flavors.

Olallie berries are large, firm black berries 1.5 inches long. They are sweeter than others with some wild blackberry flavor. Marionberries have sweet, bright, shiny black berries with a faint wild blackberry flavor. They are excellent for fresh eating and desserts.

Loganberries are thought to be a wild cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry. Their large, light red berries do not darken when ripe. The unique, tart flavor is highly prized and loganberry wine and pies are enjoyed by many people. ‘Triple Crown’ blackberry is named for its three crowning attributes—flavor, productivity and vigor. In addition, it is thornless and produces very large berries.

Boysenberries, also called nectarberries, are extremely large, dark maroon berries up to two and a half inches long. They are soft and very juicy with a rich, tangy flavor. They come either thorny or thornless.

There are many great raspberries. ‘Meeker’ has large, rich red fruit is very sweet and flavorful. It is an excellent home garden variety for fresh eating and freezing and produces over a long season. ‘Newburgh’ has very large, sweet fruit with mild flavor. It holds its shape well so is great for canning and freezing. ‘Fall Gold’ is a golden-yellow raspberry that is extremely sweet and excellent for fresh eating, canning and preserves. It bears from June to October.

‘Amity’ raspberry has firm, dark red berries with classic raspberry flavor. It makes both a spring and a fall crop. ‘Willamette’ has large, deep red berries that have a rich, slightly tart flavor. Its tall, vigorous, disease-resistant canes bear heavy crops of top quality fruit.

‘Munger Blackcap’ is a black raspberry. Its large, plump, shiny black berries have a sweet, delicious flavor that makes fine jams and jellies. The most popular purple raspberry variety is ‘Royalty’. It produces sweet, light flavored berries through the summer that make outstanding jellies and jams.

Gooseberries and currants almost never show up in the grocery store, so if you like a tasty gooseberry pie now and then, you better plant your own. ‘Poorman’ gooseberries have the largest berries, which turn wine-red when ripe. They are very flavorful and can be eaten fresh or made into pies and jams.

‘White Imperial’ currant has loose clusters of beautiful, white, translucent fruit with a pink blush. They have the richest and sweetest flavor of all currants. ‘Crandall’ black currants have a sweet-tart flavor and five times the vitamin C of oranges.

Add to these strawberries, blueberries and huckleberries and you’ll be harvesting delicious, mouth-watering fruit from May till October. Bare root berry vines can be planted now.

Small Fruits for the Garden

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 by Jenny Watts

Wonderful fruits come from the home berry patch. In addition to fresh eating and luscious pies, cobblers and strawberry shortcakes, berries are easy to freeze and can be made into delicious jams and colorful juices.

Small fruits come in a wide assortment of colors, flavors, shapes and sizes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, blackberries and grapes give us an enormous variety to choose from. Not only are they colorful and tasty, but most small fruits are easy to grow. They are very productive and most kinds bear a year or two after planting.

Grapes are one of the oldest fruits in cultivation. With just a few vines you can harvest enough fruit for delicious, fresh grapes, grape juice, grape jelly or raisins. Plant early, mid-season and late varieties for an extended harvest. Grapes must be pruned to get top production from your vines, and now is a good time to begin that job.

Raspberries and blackberries and their many cousins, are usually referred to as the brambles. They are frequently treated as gourmet fruit, not because they are hard to grow, but because they don’t ship well. But they are easy to grow in our climate, so choose some of your favorite cultivars now and start your own bramble patch.

The bush fruits include blueberry, currant, gooseberry, huckleberry and lingonberry. What you don’t eat fresh can be made into delicious sauces, conserves, pies and other desserts, or frozen for later use.

There are two types of blueberries: highbush and rabbiteye. Highbush are the most popular home-garden blueberries. They will do best in locations with some ocean influence in the summer. Rabbiteyes are ideal for warmer climates.

Currants produce generous quantities of tasty fruit with very little maintenance. Gooseberries are wonderful for preserves and refreshing summer wines. They will grow in full sun or partial shade. Huckleberry is native to our redwood forests and makes tasty little fruits that are delicious in pancakes!

The favorite home-grown berry is, of course, the strawberry. Picked ripe from the garden, they are rich and flavorful. Fresh strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream and strawberry pie are just some of the ways to use them. The plants are inexpensive and bear a full crop within a year of planting.

Think about adding some berry plants to your garden this winter during bare-root season.