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About Small Fruits and Berries

trees grapes image Highbush Blueberries
Lowbush Blueberries
Grapes
Raspberries & Blackberries
Strawberries

Years to Bearing is an estimate; your results will vary depending on climate, site, soil, nutrients, light, spacing, pruning.

Highbush Blueberries

Vaccinium corymbosum are native to North America. Many of Maine’s lakes are lined with massive stands of highbush blueberries. Grazing the shore requires only time and a suitable vessel; we prefer kayak or canoe. The beautiful vigorous shrubs are extremely easy to grow at home, productive and reliable, with few disease or insect problems. By planting several varieties, you can harvest berries from early July through most of August. Bears first crop 3–7 years after planting. Productive for at least 20 or 30 years. Berries may turn blue before they reach their peak flavor. Leave them on the bush until they are fully ripe. Check a few before you pick them all! Two varieties are required, three or more recommended, for pollination.

Years to Bearing: approximately 3-6.

Highbush Blueberries are shallow-rooted and like light acid soil (pH 4.0–5.2) with plenty of organic matter, good drainage, and plenty of water. Space them 3–6' apart (3' for the shorter varieties) in rows 8–10' apart. If your soil is lacking acidity, add peat, woods humus, or 1 cup elemental sulfur per bush.

Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball. If you use peat, soak it and then mix it with soil at a one-to-one ratio. We suggest dipping roots in Agri-gel. Plant at the same depth as in the nursery. Do not let the roots dry out! Pack the soil firmly and water thoroughly. Plants require at least 1" water per week during the growing season. On most soils, blueberries require regular applications of nitrogen. In the spring, apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 1/2–1 qt composted hen manure per plant.

Fruit is produced on vigorous one-year shoots off healthy canes. As canes age they become twiggy and less productive. Begin pruning after three years. Head back long pieces of new growth for a bushier plant. Cut out weak or dead canes and dead tips. Each bush should be allowed to grow 6–10 canes varying in age from 1–6 years old. Thereafter, remove dead canes and those over 6 years old and encourage new replacement canes. Bushes with regular moderate pruning produce the most berries.

Berries may need net protection from birds. One of the best arrangements we’ve seen is John Meader’s netted “house” in Buckfield. He has about 40 bushes growing under a framework made of posts and 2x4s and completely covered in netting.

Competition with grass may weaken and kill your blueberries. Mulch heavily (3–6" or more) every year with pine needles, cardboard, wood chips, hay, sawdust, even old slab wood. When using sawdust you may want to compensate by adding extra nitrogen.

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Lowbush Blueberries

Vaccinium angustifolium Woodsy dry poor acid soil (pH 4.0–5.2) is a prerequisite for lowbush blueberries. If you’ve got white pine, you’re probably all set. Plant 12" apart each way and cultivate as a ground cover. Generally self-pollinating; other blueberries nearby will help ensure pollination. Full sun is best for maximum fruit production. Keep your patch weed free.

Years to Bearing: approximately 4-7.

Commercial blueberry land is burned in the spring to clear out the weeds; a crop follows a year later. To speed harvesting, berries are usually raked rather than hand-picked though you don’t have to burn and rake to have a small-scale planting.

Invented in Maine well over 100 years ago by Abijah Tabbutt, the blueberry rake looks something like a cross between a comb and a dustpan. The body of the rake is even called the pan. You comb the rake a bit into the bushes (but not deeply so!), tilt it back and the berries pop off and roll into the pan. As the saying goes, “the lighter the hand, the more berries in the pan.” You will also inevitably accumulate small twigs and leaves and various other odds and ends. Best raking is done on a breezy day. Lift the rake above your pail (we use a 5 gallon bucket) and pour. Ideally the berries will stream into the bucket while the twigs and leaves flutter off in the wind. Native to northeastern U.S. Spreads by seed and rhizomes. Plants will gradually form colonies once transplanted.

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Grapes

Vitis spp. Grapes are easy to grow and can bear plentifully even in northern New England. They begin fruiting in the second or third year after planting. They are rugged and cold hardy. Our vines bear consistently every year. Although many people prefer seedless types for table use, seeded varieties can be quite enjoyable right off the vine if you don’t mind “grape nuts.” Grape seeds contain an antioxidant that is twice as powerful as Vitamin C.

The popularity of drinking wine is not new. The Chinese were fermenting it from hawthorn berries nearly 12,000 years ago. The first wine from grapes was likely made in Turkey or Iran 7,000 years ago. Traces of red wine were found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen. Resveratrol is the polyphenol at the center of the red wine hoopla. It appears to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-microbial agents that work to prevent heart disease. Red wine is good for you!

Most grape varieties are bred from a combination of different species, V. labrusca and V. vinifera being the most important. Labrusca is native to the eastern U.S., has a wild tart musky (foxy) flavor, and is hardy and disease resistant. Concord is the best-known of the labruscas. Vinifera, native to Europe, is extremely high quality, and is the most important wine grape in the world, but is not cold hardy and is prone to disease. V. riparia, used as rootstock for grafted varieties and in hybridization with vinifera, is very adaptable to a wide range of soils, disease resistant and very cold-hardy.

In central Maine, “very early” grapes begin ripening in mid-August, while “midseason” ripen mid-September. Late-season Concord, a standard elsewhere, does not ripen in many northern areas. Grapes do not require a second cultivar for pollination.

Years to Bearing: approximately 2-3.

Grapes prefer soils with pH of 5.8–7.0. For the best grapes, provide moderate fertility, very well-drained soil and full sun. Every June we thoroughly weed the grapes under our arbor, then mulch very liberally with old hay. After that, we don’t do a thing to them except harvest in late summer and prune in late fall. Space 8–12' apart in rows 8–12' apart.

Spread the roots out, planting the crown even with the soil surface. Do not prune roots. Pack soil well. Water and mulch well. After frost danger has passed, prune vines back to 3–5 strong buds. Continue to mulch annually with hay or straw. Every few years fertilize liberally with granite dust.

Grapes require annual pruning and a trellis or arbor, though in Italy they still sometimes grow them in maple trees. All systems for growing grapes involve removal of most growth in spring or late fall to encourage new canes, as fruit is produced on these canes. There are many systems for training grapes. Some are suited to laying down and covering tender varieties over winter. Any good book on grape growing will show you several options. We suggest the Hudson River Umbrella or the Four-arm Kniffin system. The University of Maine offers a series of videos demonstrating different grape-training techniques.

People sometimes ask about wire. The current vineyard standard is high-tensile-strength class III galvanized steel wire. The gauge should be 11 to 12.5. The wire is generally sold by weight. 100 lbs of 11 gauge measures about 2600'. 100 lbs of 12.5 measures about 3800'.

Grapes rated for Zone 5 can be grown in Zones 3 and 4. To prevent winter injury, remove the vine from the trellis in fall, lay it on the ground, and bury with just enough soil to cover. To do this, plant your new grapevine at a 45° angle. Train new shoots horizontally for at least one foot. Then, curve shoots upward to form a J shape. This creates a flexible hinge, allowing you to lay the vine down at the end of the season.

Growing Grapes on an Arbor: Train one or more vines onto an arbor or gazebo; we have 8 vines, spaced about 10' apart. Prune each vine back to a single trunk. Encourage several permanent arms from each trunk. Every winter remove 70-90% of the the past summer’s growth. Next summer new fruiting canes will grow off the permanent arms.

Pruning Grapes in the Four-Arm Kniffin System
First year: Cut plant back when planting to a single stem, 6" long with two to three buds, after the last danger of frost has passed.

Second year: Set up two wires, 3' and 5' high, stretched between posts. Cut plant back to a single stem, 6 feet long and tie it to the top wire. Leave 4–6 buds near each wire and remove others.

Third year: Select 8 canes, 4 for each wire, and remove the rest. Tie two canes to each wire, in each direction. Cut these 4 canes back to 10 buds each. Cut the remaining 4 canes back to 1–2 buds each.

Later years: In the spring, remove last year’s fruiting canes. Select eight new canes. Cut 4 of them to 10 buds each, and tie them to your wires. Cut the remaining 4 back to 2 buds each. These will produce next year’s fruiting canes. Remove all other canes. The number of buds left on the fruiting canes may be adjusted to encourage more fruit (leave more buds) or larger size (leave fewer buds).

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Raspberries and Blackberries

Raspberries

We love raspberries: fresh or frozen, in smoothies, jam and especially pie. We even like the dried foliage—best taken from the first-year primocanes—which makes a delicious and healthful tea. A leaf and fruit vinegar is very high in minerals, and the leaf tea makes a great astringent and tasty tonic. The root bark is also medicinal. Native to North America, Europe and Asia, they are usually identified as Rubus idaeus or R. i. var. strigosus. 53 different Rubus species and subspecies live in Maine.
Self-pollinating; a second variety is not needed for pollination.

Please note: Raspberries have very fine, fibrous roots. Often they do not sprout from the plant stem after planting. This is OK. Be patient! Keep them well watered and they should all break dormancy, sprout from the roots and thrive for many years to come. All of our canes are well-rooted, bare-root and certified virus-free.

Everbearing Raspberries bear on first-year canes (primocanes). Everbearing types are particularly desirable for northern growers because they can die (or be cut) to the ground and still produce a sizable crop the following year. In central Maine the first of these ripens in mid-late August. Years to Bearing: approximately 1.

Summer-bearing Raspberries bear on second-year canes (floricanes). Midseason berries ripen around late July in central Maine. Years to Bearing: approximately 2.

Raspberries and Blackberries

Prior to planting, we recommend you soak canes in Agri-gel. Cane fruits have shallow perennial roots. They prefer full sun, good air circulation and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Avoid soils where tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, strawberries or wild brambles have grown. A well-kept patch can last 10–20 years.

Prepare planting holes by adding manure (15 bushels dry or 10 bushels fresh per 100 sq ft) and make each large enough to spread out the roots. Do not allow the fine roots to dry out. We suggest soaking roots in Agri-gel for 1–2 hours before planting. Plant 1–2" deeper than in the nursery and then cut the canes off at ground level. Mulch with a thick layer of woodchips. Fertilize liberally each spring with up to 100 lbs manure or compost, 8 lbs bloodmeal or 14 lbs soybean meal per 100 foot row. Some sources recommend additional nitrogen feeding each June and August. Plants require 2" water per week during the growing season.

Everbearing raspberries: Plant 9–15" apart. Because everbearing types bear fruit on first-year and second-year canes, you have a couple of options. In warmer districts, you can leave the first-year canes to overwinter after they fruit. The following year, you will get a light crop in early summer from those now two-year-old canes, followed by a larger crop later from the new first-year canes. In colder areas generally you would cut all canes to the ground in late fall after the leaves drop, or in early spring; new first-year canes will fruit in mid-late summer.

Summer-bearing raspberries: To make a hedgerow, trellis between two wires about 3–4' off the ground and 18–36" apart. Space plants 2' apart. After harvest, prune to the ground the canes that carried fruit (or remove them the following spring). Thin the fresh first-year canes to about 3–4" apart. They will bear fruit next year. During the growing season cut back canes to 5' if they are bending over severely.

Purple and black raspberries and blackberries: Plant in hills 3–4' apart, 3–4 plants per hill. Tie to a center post for support, if needed. Basic pruning is same as above. As they fill in, thin to 5–8 canes per hill. During the early summer, pinch back tip of first year canes to 21/2–3' tall. This will encourage lateral fruiting branches. You may run a wire between hills for lateral branching but this is not necessary. In the following spring, cut these fruiting laterals back to 8–12 buds.

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Strawberries

A major highlight of every summer is picking strawberries. In central Maine strawberry season usually coincides with the summer solstice. Although no one knows where the common name strawberry originated, idle speculation has it that it comes from the practice of putting straw down between the rows for pickers to sit on while they sample the fruit and catch up with each other.

50 plants will plant from 50–100'.

Keep cold or refrigerate between arrival and planting. We ship with roots slightly on the dry side. If you cannot plant them for a while, uncover the roots, mist them with water and re-cover, leaving tops exposed. Place bundle in paper bag and store on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Don’t be alarmed if the tops become brown or mushy: they will generate new leaves.
Strawberries require good air drainage, well-drained fertile soil with pH of 5.8–6.2, thick mulch and full sun. Avoid soils where tomatoes, peppers or potatoes have grown in the past 4 years. Plant strawberries at the same depth as they were in the nursery, with the middle of the crown at soil level. Keep your patch free of weeds. They require 3/4–1" water per week during April, May, August, September and October. Mulch with hay or straw in late fall to protect plants over winter. In the spring, pull mulch off plants and place between rows where it will keep fruit dry and clean during the summer. It can also be raked back over the plants if frost threatens flower buds. Floating rowcover may also be used for winter and frost protection.

The 1895 Green’s Nursery catalog recommends setting out strawberry plants in the evening. “Carrying plants about the fields in the glaring sun in the heat of the day, is a trying ordeal. If planted in the evening, the dews immediately fall upon plants and give opportunity for recuperation before the next morning’s sun appears.”

See also Alpine Strawberries.

June-Bearing Strawberries

Modern June-bearing strawberries, developed about 1830, are a hybrid of F. chiloensis (native of Chile) and F. virginiana (native of North America). Years to Bearing: approximately 2.

Matted Row system: Set plants 12–24" apart in rows 3' apart. Allow plants to produce runners freely and fill in the row. Remove all flowers the first year. Harvest berries the second summer. Immediately after harvest, fertilize liberally with compost or aged manure and renovate the row. By hand or with a tiller, narrow the row to 12" wide. Thin plants to 4–5" apart within the row. By this method a bed can last about 5 years. Then plow it under and start again.

Everbearing or Day-Neutral Strawberries

Royce Bringhurst of the University of California-Davis developed day-neutral strawberries from wild plants found in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. He crossed these with modern commercial varieties and introduced the first day-neutrals in 1980. Everbearers flower regardless of day length as long as temperatures are between 35 and 85°, and produce fruit from June to October. They are also uncommonly productive—about 1 lb of fruit per plant the first year, and slightly less the second year. Productivity peaks in August the first year. The second year, berry size decreases in the hottest weather and increases in cooler weather. Years to Bearing: approximately 1.

They are heavy feeders and benefit from 3–4" of manure worked 4–6" into the soil prior to planting. Plant 6–12" apart. Mulch with black plastic or thick straw immediately after planting. Remove flowers for the first 6 weeks, and remove all runners the first season. Mulch in late fall. Sidedress with manure monthly during the second season beginning in May. Till under after the second year and begin again.

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