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Do you grow berries at your place?

They’re a fantastic addition to any food garden. One of the best things about growing berries is that you can get a quick yield. It usually takes years to get a result from your fruit tree, but you can (potentially) get a crop of berries the same year that you plant them.

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And getting a quick return on the investment of your time, energy, and money can really boost your enthusiasm.

Plus, berries are delicious and very good for you.

Bogong raspberries
Bogong raspberries

They’re also a high-value crop that gives you plenty of potential for preserving, selling, or trading your excess.

And best of all? They’re relatively easy to grow (though of course, being gardening, there are also lots of things that can go wrong).

What sort of berries should you be growing?

There’s a long list of berries to choose from. As with everything in your garden, it’s a great strategy to aim for biodiversity.

The more different types of berries you grow, the higher chance that you’ll have a decent harvest every single year, though the same berries might not perform well each year.

Some of the more well-known (and easy to source) include:

  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Boysenberry
  • Red, black, and white currants
  • Loganberries
  • Tayberries
  • Youngberries

Mulberries are also popular, but they grow on a tree, so have the same wait-time as other deciduous fruits. If you want to get a bit more exotic, there are also plenty of less well-known berries that might find a place in your garden, such as:

  • Acai berries
  • Barbados cherry
  • Bilberry
  • Cranberry
  • Elderberry
  • Goji berries
  • Gooseberries
  • Huckleberries

If you’re relatively new to gardening, we’d recommend getting some experience with the more common types of berries first. It’s easier to source the plants, and easier to get information about how to grow them.

Problems that can crop up when growing berries

We grew raspberries commercially for many years. So we know first-hand what a successful, in-demand, and high-value crop they are.

Like all food plants, they love healthy soil. Compost, worm castings, and microbe-food are all great soil additions if you want to grow a healthy crop.

Berries also need plenty of water, pruning at the right time, and something to climb up or contain their growth.

But things didn’t always go smoothly, and we experienced a number of problems with them over the years.

The top 5 issues with berry growing (for us)

Over the decade or so that we grew raspberries, our top 5 issues were:

  1. Fruit being eaten by birds
  2. Wind damage, especially from the hot summer northerlies that we get at our place
  3. Sunburn and being able to adequately protect from the sun, particularly in heatwaves
  4. Phytophthora root rot
  5. Keeping up with the picking (not a bad problem to have!)

Getting help from the experts

We had the chance a while ago to make a field trip to Sunny Creek Organic berry farm in Gippsland and spent a productive afternoon touring the farm and picking berry farmer Phil’s brain.

Green raspberries not yet ready to pick at Sunny Creek Farm
Green raspberries not yet ready to pick at Sunny Creek Farm

Phil and his partner Cathie have been growing berries of all kinds for more than 35 years, so they have a wealth of experience. We were very interested to see how they have overcome some of the problems we ran into with the berries.

Boy, did we learn a lot in one day!

Lessons about berries we learned from Sunny Creek Farm

First, berries need sun-protection all season or they get sunburned. We thought this only happened on super-hot days with a scorching hot north wind, but in fact, it can happen at much lower temperatures.

Interestingly, it can also take weeks for the damage to show up. We only grew one variety (called Bogong raspberry), so this may explain why in our years of berry growing we didn’t always realise when sun damage had occurred.

Netting and shade cloth over the berry patch
Netting and shade cloth over the berry patch

This problem is almost completely alleviated with shade protection (like shade cloth). So, lesson 1—include shade cloth covers in your design from the get-go.

How to protect organic berries from disease

Another topic we were interested in was disease control.

One of the big problems we encountered when we grew raspberries was Phytophthora (a fungal root-rot disease), so we were particularly interested in organic solutions. We came away with a much better understanding of how to manage this disease.

Strawberry with Botrytis fungal disease
Strawberry with Botrytis fungal disease

For example, we discovered that raspberries are prone to a raspberry-specific strain of Phytophthora. This means that a patch where fruit trees have previously been affected by Phytophthora may still be suitable for raspberry growing.

We also learned that:

  • Some varieties of raspberries are more resistant to Phytopthora than others;
  • Brambles don’t get it at all;
  • Mounding the soil helps;
  • One of the biggest risks of infection is from the public.
The farm map at Sunny Creek Farm
The farm map at Sunny Creek Farm

Phil also very generously shared loads of information with us about nutrition, seasonal care, pruning, variety selection, running the pick-your-own operation, marketing, and value-adding.

It was an amazing day!

Field trips to fellow farmers are one of the fastest and most useful ways for us to learn new things in a short space of time. We know from experience how busy farming life is, and so are incredibly appreciative when farmers like Phil give so generously of their time to share their knowledge and expertise.

It also lets us share the information with you, to help you on your very own berry journey.

So next time you’re over Trafalgar South way, pop into Sunny Creek Farm and pick some amazing organic berries and tell Phil that Hugh and Katie sent you.

And in the meantime, plan to get some berries in the ground this year.

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