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Small Kitchen Garden Fruits


My last post encouraged you to plant fruit trees in autumn in your small kitchen garden. It explored advantages of planting in the fall, and suggested some concerns you need to address as you shop for trees at a nursery. In keeping with the spirit of a truly small kitchen garden, there are only a handful of fruit plants that grow in relatively small spaces. For people in temperate zones, these include strawberries, grapes, and blueberries… well, also bramble berries such as raspberries and blackberries, but you should plant those in the spring.

About Strawberries

A strawberry plant requires little space, but you’re going to need many plants if you want to pick enough fruit at once for shortcake, jams, sauces, or salads. Strawberries do well in containers, and you can come up with schemes for stacking containers, distributing them around a deck or patio, and otherwise cramming a lot of plants into a small space. Lots of direct sun is important.

My favorite strawberry planter is a pot with multiple terraced pockets up and around the sides—you fill the pot with soil, and put a plant in each of the pockets, resulting in a kind of hanging garden of strawberries. The growing bag is a more recent innovation for small kitchen gardens: it’s a flexible tube with slits in which you plant flowers, vines, or whatever. I haven’t tried one yet, but if I wanted to grow strawberries on a balcony or deck, this would be my first choice. You might find such planters at your local garden store, or you can click the pictures here to follow links to Amazon.

It’s time to establish your summer-bearing strawberry plants now, though you can plant ever-bearing strawberries on into October. (I’m talking about starting with plants… not with seeds—if you really want to wrestle with seeds, plant them when fresh local strawberries are available in your area, and don’t plan to harvest for a year or two.)

Grapes in Your Small Kitchen Garden

Grapes are another small kitchen garden fruit you should plant in autumn. These make attractive accents when you provide trellises and train the vines up above shoulder level… some gorgeous patio walkways have grape trellises overhead, and a walk through can include snacking on the fruit. With clever design of your trellises and patient pruning of your vines, in time you can open up space near or around your grapes to grow other foods as well. Grapes aren’t good candidates for container gardening, but they’ll be happy planted along the south-facing wall of hour house.

Blueberries Rock

Blueberries rank at the top of my list for fruit to grow in a small kitchen garden. Blueberry bushes grow naturally in a variety of shapes. I’ve sat on the ground in the words to pick from wild, prolific ground-hugging bushes. I’ve stood on tiptoe to reach berries on high branches of hedges that towered over me. Fortunately for the small kitchen garden, blueberries prefer to be pruned heavily. So, you can shape the plants and keep them relatively small if you’re tight on space. Better still, there are dwarf varieties–like the one shown at right–that thrive in containers. You should be able to find plants at your local nurseries, but you can click the photo to read more about this plant at Amazon.

That said, take a look at those azaleas or rhododendron filling spaces in your yard. Wouldn’t it be great to harvest blueberries for pancakes, salads, and cereal from those spaces? Spring-flowering perennials are pretty for a few weeks, but I’d trade them in a second for an annual heap of blueberries…

Don’t Dig Yourself a Hole

In my last post, I threw up warnings about planting fruit in your small kitchen garden. I can’t emphasize enough: it’s work. Taking a lazy garden approach, growing fruit may put you over the top. Strawberries, for example, wear themselves out and you usually need to replant after two or three years of harvest. Every strawberry plant I’ve started from seed waited two years before producing berries, hence the encouragement for you to start with growing plants.

Blueberries demand acid soil—if you live in limestone country (I do), you might be adding a lot of compost, mulch, and chemicals (if that’s your thing) to keep the plants happy. Oh, and there’s that pruning thing: blueberry plants in small kitchen gardens tend to get too little pruning.

Grapes, apples, peaches, and pears all give their best production when you prune properly (a big topic for another day). Insects, birds, and rodents seem to like the sugar in fruit… and, perhaps, the moisture—I find it easier to protect my vegetables than to protect my fruit crops. (I hate it when I see robins picking my blueberries before they’re fully ripe.)

Finally, there are several issues related to production of good fruit. Without countermeasures, insects will make your apples very unappealing. Without culling of young fruit in the spring, your peach trees may be so prolific that the fruits will be quite small.

Harvesting Fruit

Here’s something you rarely hear anyone complain about: fruit is ready when it’s ready. You can manage peaches, pears, and apples to spread the harvest out over several weeks—even months for apples. However, a full-grown tree might produce many bushels of apples, and if you plan to eat them you simply must get them off the tree before they freeze or rot in late autumn. All other fruit also hits a wall, and when you have a whole tree… or two or three… you must deal with it in its time.

And the back-stressing work that bothers a lazy gardener? Windfalls. Especially apples tend to fall and rot on your lawn. (Peaches and pears rot just fine on the tree.) The rotting fruit attracts insects and rodents and gets pretty unpleasant under foot. Plums are worse. They make slippery slimy spots that can be as effective as banana peels in helping you get horizontal… and the juice can stain your clothing. When you’re a kid playing under your grandmother’s plum tree, that’s kinda cool, but in my lazy garden, I have no enthusiasm for the mess.

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