Air Date: Week of August 6, 1999
Host Steve Curwood gets advice on how listeners can grow their own berries at home from Living On Earth’s garden expert, Michael Weishan.
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. At home we plant tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and lots of flowers. But now Michael Weishan wants me to start thinking about planting berries. Michael is Living on Earth's gardening expert as well as the editor of Traditional Gardening. Now Michael, why should I and other people consider berries?
WEISHAN: Well, there's a very good reason. How much did you pay for berries the last time you went to the store?
CURWOOD: Ooooooh, yeah, I suppose ...
WEISHAN: A lot of money.
CURWOOD: It was a lot of dough. Four bucks for this little thing of raspberries.
WEISHAN: Exactly. I think that's one of the principal reasons to grow berries. And the second reason to grow berries is that they're exceedingly easy to grow. Most of the berries can be fit into any part of the landscape and are pretty effortless to produce a fantastic crop.
CURWOOD: Hmm. Which berries are the best to plant?
WEISHAN: People should plant I think the berries they like most to eat. One of my favorites is strawberry and it's one of the easiest to grow. You go to the nursery in the early spring, or you can order through the various mail-order catalogs, and buy these little dried-up root masses that you would never in a thousand years think were going to produce anything. And you plant them just under the surface of the soil with the roots pointing downward, and in a few weeks you have these beautiful little strawberry leaves popping up. And after a year, you have a carpet, essentially, of strawberries, which doesn't really need to be weeded or tended or done much to anything.
CURWOOD: And you have to wait a year, though, before you get something to eat.
WEISHAN: Well, no, you can actually harvest a few things hither and yon as you see them coming. But you're not going to get a lot of crop the first year. That's the one down side about berries is that they're one of the things that require a bit of patience in the garden, because you plant for one year and then harvest in the second, third, and subsequent years. The good thing is that of course the harvest lasts for, well, depending on the variety, can last for up to 20 years from a single plant.
(A cock crows)
CURWOOD: How hard are berries to keep growing?
WEISHAN: Actually very easy. There are some pests, of course, that do like to attack the different varieties. But by and large it's one of the easiest things to grow organically because generally the harvest is large enough that even if you lose a portion to something or another that you have plenty left over. We don't spray anything. We don't spray our strawberries or raspberries or blueberries or any of that stuff, and we have never had a problem.
CURWOOD: Now where should one put one's berry beds? Out in the full sun? They just need to get as much sun as they possibly can?
WEISHAN: Yeah. That's the one thing about berries is almost all of them require full sun. Full sun and fairly high fertility soil. We'd want to substantially improve the soil with compost or manure and till it down deeply, because this is the type of thing where you're going to be planting once and then it's going to roll forward for years and years at a time. So you really want to do it right the first time.
(Cock crows, mixed with wind and bird song)
CURWOOD: Well, what about other berries such as blueberries and blackberries and gooseberries and mulberries ...
WEISHAN: All those wonderful berries. Now, some of those -- mulberries, for instance, are a tree, and were actually very popular in this country in the 1830s. They were going to use them for silk production but that whole industry did not take off. Some people consider them to be a nuisance because the birds absolutely adore eating them and once you get a mulberry tree you have about 20 mulberry trees everywhere, because the birds carry the seeds. I personally love mulberries. I remember a tree at my grandfather's house that we used to shimmy up and get the berries out before the birds could and it was absolutely wonderful. You mentioned blueberries. One of the easiest things to grow, and particularly easy if you have an acidic soil, which is very common in many parts of the country, because they do require an acidic soil. Raspberries are another one of my favorites and we have quite a line of them here.
(Footfalls on gravel)
WEISHAN: I planted this bed just last year, and as you can see they're essentially at this time of year it just sort of looks like sticks. But there are just a few leaves starting to come.
CURWOOD: Yeah. They kind of ouch you when you pick these raspberries, too.
WEISHAN: There are actually thornless varieties that you can choose. Some have better tastes than others. Personally, I like the old fashioned kind. If you have an area in the landscape where you need a hedge or you want to keep someone out, berries are absolutely, you know, raspberries are perfect. Because they form quite a dense hedge about 5 feet high and completely thick. You're certainly not going to want to go through them. But the real glory is to come out here on a summer day and be able to pick your own, you know, quart or 2 of raspberries and bring them in, put them on cereal in the morning or have them for dinner after or for dessert. It's an amazing experience.
CURWOOD: Well, Michael, once again. Thank you, thank you berry much. (Weishan laughs)
CURWOOD: Living on Earth's garden expert Michael Weishan is also editor of Traditional Gardening. Now, if you have any questions you'd like to ask Michael, dial up the Living on Earth Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.
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