May 26, 2018
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Small fruits thrive in ’08, except for raspberries

By Reeser Manley

As some of you know, this was a dismal year for raspberries. We picked a few handfuls of the earliest berries while working in the garden, but then, as the main crop matured, the rains came. Ripe raspberries, red and purple, turned to moldy mush overnight.

Marjorie picked the furry fruits and dumped them far from the garden, hoping to avoid future infections. She does not apply fungicides to her raspberries, but even gardeners who do complained of total crop losses this year.

Adding insult to injury, the local deer — no doubt the same deer that browsed the tips of our high-bush blueberry shrubs earlier in the year — pruned the succulent primocanes that would bear next year’s raspberries. Enough is enough! We spent the next weekend erecting a deer fence around the entire vegetable and small fruit garden.

As Thomas Jefferson noted about the culture of the garden, “The failure of one thing [is] repaired by the success of another.” Strawberries were plentiful in June. In July we picked blueberries every day for two weeks, in spite of the earlier deer browsing and competition from an occasional blue jay that slipped under the nets covering the bushes. One morning Lynne picked 4 cups of blueberries, enough for the pie she craved.

Raspberries aside, it has been a good year for fruits, both cultivated and wild. To the delight of the white-throated sparrows in Marjorie’s garden, red elderberries, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens, were abundant in spring, bending down the shrub’s warty stems with their weight. Now, with first frost eminent, the last purple-black berries of common elderberry, S. canadensis, slip the grasp of bright red pedicels at the slightest touch of the sparrow’s beak.

Common elderberry belongs in a birder’s garden. Earlier in the summer we watched robins and catbirds harvesting the BB-shot-sized fruits before they were fully ripe. And in late August and early September, elderberry shrubs are a good place to spot fall migrants fueling up for the journey south.

Each year the elderberries in Marjorie’s garden have grown a little taller and produced more fruit than the year before. This year, for the first time, we actually beat the birds to a few ripe berries. For me, it took only a few to gladly leave the rest for the sparrows. Maybe next year I’ll try an elderberry pie.

Throughout the summer, as time permitted, we worked on a new garden bed for chokeberries, Aronia melanocarpa, finally transplanting eight small plants to their new home in late August. Half of the plants were already sporting a few berries, raising my hopes for a small crop as soon as next year.

I started this project with an interest in chokeberries as another small fruit crop for the garden. The common name says a lot about the taste of the fresh-picked fruit — even birds shun them until late winter when all else has been eaten — yet I read that they make tasty preserves, jams and pies, and that they are extremely high in antioxidant content.

Beginning in late September, as nights turn cool, grapes ripen in Marjorie’s garden, red seedless table grapes, the cultivar ‘Reliance.’ We have watched them over the summer turn from green through pink to dusky red. A few bunches still hang on the vine, waiting for my return to the garden this coming weekend. I will pluck a handful as I walk past the vines, feeling each one pop as I break its skin with my teeth and release sweetness without equal in the realm of small fruits.

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