I sometimes throw my vegetable garden a guilty look as I skip past it on my way to the fruit cage or down to look at my young apple trees. The vegetable garden, though not as glamorous, does the heavy lifting and provides food for most of the year yet if I’m pottering about it’ll be my fruit that gets all the attention.
Part of the reason is there is very little work involved in growing fruit; you can go around checking supports or training a branch or two without discovering some big job that will take you all afternoon. As you know, the vegetable garden pretty much has to be started from scratch every year while fruit, once planted, only needs a quick feed and a prune to remain productive for years.
Currently my tree fruit consists of apples, plums and pears (though I have yet to harvest a single pear). I also grow soft fruit with a selection of summer and autumn raspeberries, black, red and white currants, loganberries, tayberries, red and green gooseberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Most bushes or canes are only 3 years old and already produce impressive quantities of fruit. Currants are particularly prolific and are slow to drop their berries so can be harvested fresh over a very long period. Raspberries are another crop I couldn’t do without, particularly the Autumn varieties which are only reaching their end now in mid October.
Personally I like fruit with a mix of sweetness and acidity so the ones that knock me off my feet are plum ‘czar’ (technically a cooking plum but if you pick them fully ripe they are incredible) and perfumed gooseberry ‘black velvet’ which is the best fruit I’ve ever tasted.
Bare root fruit
Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say, so while your growing season shuts down around now, another window opens as we enter bare root fruit season. The most cost effective way to plant fruit is to purchase trees, bushes, canes or plants in their dormant season, essentially the nursery is saving on a pot, the compost to fill it and, in our case, on delivery to ship it.
Bare root plants arrive as fairly miserable looking specimens, leafless and with roots exposed. It is best to plant them as soon as possible so it’s worth having your planting area prepared before you order so they can go in as soon as they arrive. Like the famous ugly duckling, bare root fruit is not much to look at but will actually produce a much better plant in the long run than potted stock.
To prepare your fruit beds, remove any deep rooted weeds and feed the soil with plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost. Avoid only feeding the immediate area around the planting hole as the roots will be reluctant to leave this small, fertile patch. You want to encourage roots to spread over a wide area which will increase the water and nutrient uptake ability of the plant.
Pruning and fruit care
Soft fruit has various growth habits so require different pruning methods but these are neither numerous nor difficult. As a rule of thumb for fruit bushes (currants, gooseberries and blueberries) you simply need to remove any growth that is over 4 years old. This is done by cutting out the full branch right down to soil level (there is a video link to this at the bottom of the page).
For summer raspberries you simply remove the canes that have finished fruiting (this is done in October) and leave any new canes to fruit next year. For autumn varieties simply cut back the whole lot when fruiting is over.
Hybrid berries like loganberries or tayberries are treated the same way as summer raspberries but are a little more awkward as they need support wires and are thorny but again, this is far from complicated.
Tree fruit like apples, plums and pears require effort when planting to give best results and will benefit from some formative pruning in the first few years but after that can generally be left to their own devices.
If you are interested in taking up fruit growing or expanding your selection I have written a number of articles and have a video or two which may be of help to you. I have included some links at the bottom of the page if you would like to read more. I also include a link to our fruit shop which you can access by clicking the blue button below.
Before I built a fruit cage I had various soft fruit bushes dotted around the garden and was usually pleased with what I got from them. I rarely bothered netting them and while I lost some fruit to the birds I figured I was getting my fair share. I think word must have got round in the bird community however as it eventually got to the point that all I was left with was green gooseberries.
Since I built a wooden fruit cage (pictured above) I now realise just how much fruit the birds were taklng. The difference was amazing; I couldn’t believe how much a currant bush was capable of producing. Genuinely the fruit cage is one of the best things I ever did in the garden.
I designed and built a timber fruit cage with a view to assembling it as a kit for sale on the site but in the end it seemed a bit complicated if you didn’t have any carpentry skills. The alternative (which I wish I had before I built the timber version) is our new galvanized steel cage which is much easier to install.
Our new cages are a heavy duty system that will withstand any weather. They are forgiving to assemble as the fittings can be adjusted or swapped around if you make a mistake. All steel is galvanized to protect from rust with rust proof stainless steel grub screws so the structure will remain serviceable for years.
Our fruit cages are available as pre packed kits of various sizes or you can order all parts separately to build a structure of any size you like. If you need any help or advice designing a cage to suit your site drop me a line, I’ll be happy to help. I include a link to heavy duty kits below.