My property has a right-of-way cutting off a small section of my land for my dear neighbor so she can get to her property. I see this section of land as a small island and found a great opportunity to do something a little different with it. This will be my second year working on ‘Berry Island’.
It’s really cold right now about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so I obviously won’t find any berries, but it is a perfect time of the year to get some work done and tell you a bit about my berries. I was also lucky enough to have my daughter make me a black berry crumble and it was spectacular!
I always consider myself fortunate to have such good Amish friends. Most of you know the ridiculous prices stores put on berry plants, so I asked my Amish friend, Jake, for some help. I bartered a car ride in exchange for some berry plants from his parent’s home. They have an unbelievable piece of property full of all sorts of berries. Jake was more than happy for that deal and so was I.
A few days later, Jake showed up with a bushel box full of bare root plants. It was the coolest thing I ever saw, and I was blown away. I must have had over $300 worth of plants in this one box.
I not only received red berries and black berries; I had different varieties of each: a bunch of strawberry plants topped the box and more!
I received the following:
• Apache Thornless Blackberry- Huge berry great for jams.
• Triple Crown Blackberry- Heavy producer
• Darrow Thorny- Heavy producer
• Heritage Raspberry- Fall bearing
• Caroline Raspberry- Ever bearing
• Elder Berry
• Strawberry plants (unknown type but delicious)
With all these bare root plants, I needed to get to work. I ended up planting right into the night. I was just so happy and felt so appreciative that I didn’t want to waste one plant. That was 2 summers ago; we will be going into our 3rd summer this exciting new year.
Last summer, the black berry bushes did great! I ended up having to prune it back because we couldn’t get through the aisles. Most grew about 4 feet tall and 4-foot-wide with tons of berries. The raspberries grew just as well and I really love how sweet they are.
If you want to grow the best black berries and raspberries, keep plenty of organic mulch on them. Berries need consistent moisture to grow the biggest berries and that’s why mulch is really important. Berries are acid loving plants, so keep some pine needle and pine chips around your plants.
Berry Island seems to be the place my kids head to on early summer mornings. It’s also the hangout for my nephews and nieces when they visit. This summer, our blue berry bushes will be on their third year. They should be about hip high and full of berries. They started out 6” tall but grew nicely with all the pine mulch, wood shavings and touch of straw.
It’s hard to find a better berry than a good strawberry. For that reason alone, I plant a lot of strawberries, and I spread them around my permaculture garden. I can really taste the difference between plants depending on where they grow. Some get more sunlight than others; some have a different mixture of mulch. Spreading them around wouldn’t work for some people, but I like it because the berry hunt is on. Everyone wants to search for the best strawberry, and they end up exploring the whole area. I really get a kick out of my friends and family saying they found the best tasting strawberry plant, and they all pick at a different one.
I love our wild birds because they do a good job of eating pests in the garden. They do annoy me when they take one bite out of the best-looking strawberries. I have heard they do this because they need water. I put up a bird waterer, but that only cut my damage down a little bit. So, I have been forced to use some bird netting that I cut and tossed on the plants. It’s a good way to catch moles that get trapped in the netting.
My elderberry bush was an exciting addition to our homestead. It’s not really that popular of a plant, but it should be. Most people scare away when they find out it can be poisonous. Black elderberry seeds contain cyanide at trace levels. The more raw berries you eat the higher the chance you will get sick. All that’s needed to become safe is to cook the ripe berries well. This destroys the glycosides in the seeds getting rid of the cyanide.
Some people claim that drinking the raw juice is medicinal, but I will not chance it myself. You can do your research and decide for yourself. Educate any people that browse through your garden not to eat these berries raw.
The Elderberry is full of vitamins and antioxidants! High in vitamin C and potassium, they are great immune boosters. The berries are mainly used in pies, jams, wines, syrups and juice. It has an old-time flavor that some people love and some don’t. I would not say it’s at all offensive. The beautiful flowers can also be used just like the berries, but save some flowers for the berries to grow.
To keep your elderberry happy, keep it mulched thick and the soil moist. This is a plant that is usually found growing on the edge of ponds, creeks, rivers and even ditches. The plant will grow and spread, so be aware of it casting shade, and keep plants at least 5 feet from each other.
I love my Mulberry bush even though its dirty. The best place for me to plant my Mulberry bush was over my chicken pen: it’s such a heavy producer that it is a great addition to the chicken feed. The mulberries taste great fresh and can be used in place of any berry for recipes.
So, you can imagine now that my berry island is truly an oasis of good eats. I think everyone should create their own berry island ,and once you do, please share some cuttings with others so they can start their own island.