Fruits galore in the ‘best’ season

A bumper harvest of strawberries.
A bumper harvest of strawberries.

This is the best gardening period of the year by a country mile. Even though we harvest produce throughout the seasons, the widest variety and highest rate of production comes at the peak of summer.

There is little or no waste when everything is picked fresh — any surplus is turned into jam and chutney or bagged for the freezer. Of course, it’s no coincidence that the weather, day-length, fragrances and wildlife all reach a high of sorts that enhances this feel-good factor.

I love growing so-called soft fruits because they offer such a huge return without being too demanding. Take gooseberries, for example. If you simply planted a bush and let it grow without any attention, it would produce fruit for years, just as those in hedgerows do, but the quality would be disappointing.

You stand a far better chance of securing a bumper crop of large berries with a late winter prune, preferably in February, followed by a dressing of slow release fertiliser and organic mulch. By picking a few early fruits for pies before they’re mature, you practically ensure the remaining berries double in size.

All of our fruit trees and bushes need pruning at some stage. I’ve just pruned the apples by shortening all lateral stems to 15 centimetres. There is also a universal demand for an organic rich soil and surface mulch to hold the moisture. But when to prune and how much to remove is the question.

The gooseberry bush needs an open centre to increase air flow and avoid mildew forming. Follow a spur pruning system with the side shoots from leading branches trimmed back to two or three buds. Redcurrants can be pruned in similar fashion, and with both aim to encourage strong young stems.

Blackcurrants can be pruned immediately after the berries have been picked. Remove the old wood that has just borne fruit and encourage strong shoots emerging from ground level. Young stems normally appear half-way up the bush. Just run your hand down the spent wood until you reach the junction with a new stem, then remove the old.

We’re deep into strawberry harvesting and have started to pick the main-crop raspberries. Pruning for them comes straight after the last batch has gone into the freezer. Every cane that has just fruited is cut out at ground level. This leaves the young ones that have developed since spring. Select the strongest and tie them in for fruiting next year. Remove any weakly stems.

Autumn fruiting raspberries are simpler to prune. Once the crop is over, and ours goes well into December, chop everything to ground level. New growth appears in spring, matures over summer and performs from September.