Berry Cousins

Saturday, February 4th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • 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.
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    Berry Cousins

    Lingonberries have been a gourmet staple in Sweden, Norway and Germany since the time of the Vikings. Europeans are wild about lingonberry jams, juices, syrups and liqueurs. For a pancake syrup, their flavor is excellent. Also known as mountain cranberry or foxberry, this berry is little known in this country.

    The pea-sized fruits have a strong red color and a tasty, tart flavor. They have unusually good keeping qualities, up to 8 weeks under refrigeration. Berries and leaves of the bush are used for medicinal purposes and, eaten raw, they are good for the digestion.

    The lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, is a wonderful ornamental plant. The bright red berries and bright evergreen foliage make it attractive year-round. It is a creeping, ground-cover plant growing 12 to 16 inches tall. It needs constant moisture and partial shade and will make a handsome ground-cover under rhododendrons. They are closely related to cranberries and blueberries.

    In Northern Europe the lingonberry is found commonly growing in the pine forests. It is very hardy, and prefers a cool location. They also like an acid and gritty soil with a pH of 4 to 5. When planting, amend the soil with generous amounts of peat moss and sand and be sure the soil is well-drained. When given the right conditions, they will form a solid mat which shades the ground and provides its own mulch.

    The pinkish white, bell-shaped flowers come in clusters in early spring and produce dark red berries which ripen by late spring or early summer. The plants are very disease-resistant.

    Lingonberries also make attractive container plants. As a potted ornamental, it fruits in the fall of the year, and the red berries set against the green foliage are very showy. Find a spot in your garden for this intriguing, edible landscape plant.

    A close cousin to the lingonberry is our native huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum. This lovely shrub has small shiny leaves that are dark green above and pale green underneath, with copper-colored new growth. The spring flowers are particularly attractive. They hang like clusters of pink, urn-shaped bells very much like heather or manzanita blossoms, to which they are related.

    Huckleberries make excellent landscaping plants since they have such attractive, glossy, evergreen foliage and showy edible fruit. They are good for anchoring soil and flourish in sun or shade with some summer watering and good drainage. They like acidic soil that is low in organic matter, and tolerate everything from sandy soils to clay, and are drought tolerant once established. One inch of organic mulch will keep them happy.

    Evergreen huckleberries are excellent plants for creating wildlife habitats. The flowers attract butterflies and the berries are eaten by scarlet tanagers, bluebirds, thrushes, and other songbirds. Deer and rabbit browse freely on the plants. Because of their food value to wildlife and their dense shrubby growth, evergreen huckleberry is a good addition to hedgerows.

    In fall, the plants are covered with delicious, juicy, purplish-black berries. They are delicious fresh and also make excellent jelly, pies, pancakes and muffins. They can also be frozen and used for up to 6 months.

    Edible plants can be important additions to your landscape, providing beauty as well as tasty and healthy treats for your family.

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.