One of our main lockdown projects this year has been the purchase of a new fruit cage and the planting of fresh strawberry and raspberry plants in a different area of the garden. We have grown strawberries and raspberries in the vegetable garden in the past but the plants have gradually got weaker and weaker and produced less and less. Time for a change we thought.
In the first lockdown back in March and April we decided to clear a new area on the edge of the orchard in full sun but also sheltered from the north winds by the hawthorn hedge.
The fruit cage
Having cleared the area we purchased a 5m x 2.5m peak roofed steel fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural in Suffolk. We were looking for something that would create an attractive feature in the garden rather than purely being a square box covered in netting. This certainly fits the bill.
With plenty of time on our hands and some nice weather we set about the task. The instructions were good and it all came together very well. With just two people and a large ladder we did manage to put it together ourselves although I think putting on the roof would have been much easier if more people had been available to help with the final lift. With only two of us the peak roof had to be carefully lifted into place in the centre by climbing up the ladder whilst the other bolted it into the frame.
We really only had one hick-up when we discovered that the two top finials were poorly welded and wouldn’t slide into place. It is always irritating to have to wait for replacement parts to come but there was no problem in getting them even though many were working from home at that time. In total it probably took us a week to put up with plenty of time for cups of coffee and lunch along the way.
The task that took most patience was whipping in all the netting to make sure there were absolutely no gaps that would allow the birds to get in. This took pretty much a whole day of careful sewing. The time has been well spent and we have had no birds inside during this first year.
Once complete we decided that half the cage was be put to strawberries and the other half to raspberries.
We were keen to get planting as soon as possible but recognised that we would have to wait until November to plant the bare root raspberry canes.
The strawberries were another matter and so we were able to get hold of cold stored strawberry plants from Ken Muir in early summer. These were lovely, strong, healthy plants and grew away beautifully once they were planted in the ground. Having prepared the soil we planted the bare root plants through weed suppressing membrane. As this was virgin land we knew that we would be fighting the weeds for some time and this gave us an opportunity to keep the weeds at bay as well as keep the strawberries off the soil. The theory was that the black material would also warm up quickly in the sun and aid ripening.
We planted three different varieties to give us a crop over a longer season. These were:
Vibrant – an early variety
Hapil – a mid-summer variety
Fenella – a late summer variety
In theory this should provide us with a crop from mid-June through to late July. What is particularly nice about planting cold-stored plants is that they crop in the first year – and it worked! There is nothing nicer than enjoying the fruit of your labours (with cream).
In this first year the three varieties grew quite differently. Vibrant produced the most fruit whilst Hapil grew a huge amount of foliage and produced less fruit. Our aim is to encourage plants with multiple crowns and so we spent a lot of time this year cutting out all the new runners that emerged.
In November we received our bare root raspberry canes from Pomona Fruits. In this instance we have gone for the two varieties Glen Ample and Tulameen. Both are summer fruiting varieties.
We did debate whether to have both summer and autumn fruiting varieties but concluded that we preferred to get one substantial crop and freeze any excess rather than risk never have enough for a good meal with friends. and family.
Prior to the canes arriving we prepared the ground and installed three strong upright posts and supporting cross wires. One thing we learnt for next time is that if the posts are too tall there is no enough room underneath the netting to effectiveky use the post rammer to drive in the supports.
One downside of planting summer fruiting varieties is that the fruit is produced on last year’s wood. Planting short, bare root canes this year means that we will not get fruit next year and only begin to crop in 2022. Far too long!
To overcome this we were delighted to see that Pomona Fruit provided ‘long canes’ of Glen Ample. We should therefore get our first crop of Glen Ample next summer whilst the Tulameen will grow fresh canes next year that will fruit for the first time in 2022.
Browsing through the fruit catalogues is always fatal and as usual I was tempted by something we had not tried before. We do grow redcurrants and blackcurrants in the vegetable patch but the birds always get to the redcurrants before we do.
There was not enough room for a normal sized redcurrant bush in the new fruit cage but I did spot a cordon redcurrant Jonkheer van Tets. I convinced myself that there would be room to plant this alongside one of the end raspberry support poles. And so it was purchased. It looks great in the catalogue and it would be lovely if it can be kept well trained and produce lots of fruit. We enjoy redcurrants but don’t really need huge amounts so a single, productive plant (where we get most of the fruit instead of the birds) should more than suffice.