Soft fruit are a much awaited harvest of the summer months. But in many cases, the season is all too short. Fortunately, there are several things we can do as gardeners to prolong the soft fruit harvesting period. In this article, we’ll take a look at how you could ensure that you can eat fresh, home-grown soft fruits for as much of the year as possible.
Why Prolong Your Soft Fruit Harvest?
Before we take a look at what you can do, let’s take a moment to think about why you may wish to do so. There are several reasons why you may wish to prolong your soft fruit harvest. For example, you might wish to prolong the period of cropping to:
Increase your yield, and expand the size of the harvest over all.
Make it possible to enjoy your favourite fruits fresh for a longer period of time.
Add diversity to your diet over a longer period.
Spread your workload, and make it easier to harvest your crops.
Make it easier for you to find the time to preserve your fresh fruit for later in the year.
If you are not just growing for your own consumption, providing soft fruits to customers earlier (and potentially also later) than your competition could also help to give your business a bit of an edge. (For example, selling strawberries in May, before most crops are ready in your area could be very lucrative.)
Choose The Right Soft Fruits For Where You Live
First of all, it is important to mention how vital it is to choose the right soft fruits for where you live. You must take the climate and conditions in your garden into account. When making your choices, always keep your location in mind, as well as your own personal tastes and preferences. The better suited the plants are to where they are grown, the more likely they are to thrive, and produce fruit for as long as possible.
Popular soft fruits on canes and bushes to grow in the UK include:
Raspberries (red, black and yellow)
Currants (red, black, white and golden)
However, there are also plenty more fruits and berries to grow in your garden. Some more unusual options include:
… to name but a few.
In order to prolong the harvesting period for as long as possible, it is important to choose as many different types of plant as possible. The more soft fruits you have in your garden, the longer your harvesting period can be.
Choose Multiple Varieties of Different Soft Fruit
In addition to choosing plenty of different types of soft fruit, it is also a good idea to select multiple varieties of different soft fruits, which crop at different times of year. With raspberries, for example, you should consider growing both summer fruiting and autumn fruiting varieties, so that you have plants that crop from June/ July right through to September.
With strawberries, you can consider ever-bearing varieties as well as typical June-bearing plants.
Prune and Manage Soft Fruits Correctly
Often, how you manage and prune your soft fruit canes and bushes will have a bearing on how long they bear fruits. For example, if you fail to remove early runners from strawberry plants, they may give up on fruiting more quickly. Correct pruning procedures for raspberries etc. can also help to make sure that the canes bear fruit for as long as possible, and are happy and healthy.
Place Some Soft Fruit Under Cover (in a Polytunnel, For Example)
Soft fruits grown in a polytunnel can often fruit earlier than crops grown outdoors. Bringing some strawberries into the polytunnel in early spring, for example, could deliver fruits up to a month or so ahead of outside crops.
While gardeners less frequently think to grow other soft fruits in a polytunnel, the same is also true for a range of other soft fruit crops. For example, I have allowed some wild raspberries to come up in my polytunnel. The fruits are well on their way on these plants this year, while outside plants are only just beginning to flower.
I am able to harvest the raspberries in the polytunnel, then, after a good couple of weeks of harvesting from there, I can begin to harvest the next batch from other parts of my garden.
Place Some Soft Fruit in a Sheltered, Sunny Spot
Where exactly you choose to grow soft fruit outdoors can also help to prolong the harvesting period. By providing different conditions, and growing soft fruits in different locations, you can prolong the harvesting period and enjoy fresh fruits for a longer portion of the year.
Place some soft fruits in a sheltered sunny spot, and while these will be ready a little later than those that are grown under cover in a polytunnel, they could potentially be ready a little earlier than those grown in a slightly less favourable spot. A spot against a sunny, south facing wall, for example, could be ideal to bring a slightly earlier harvest.
A spot sheltered behind a polytunnel could also be good. I have some more wild raspberries growing between my polytunnel and a sheltered wildlife pond in my garden. These are ready after the ones inside the polytunnel, but before the wild and cultivated raspberries grown elsewhere in the garden are ready to harvest.
And Some in a Partially Shaded/ More Exposed Spot Where They’ll Fruit a Little Later
Finally, it is usually best to grow soft fruits in locations that are ideally suited to the plants, so you get as large a crop as possible. But occasionally, you might wish to manipulate things a little by planting some in a slightly less favourable position – such as one that is a little more exposed. Or one which is in dappled or light shade.
For example, I have some raspberries (which do fruit slightly later) along the fringes of my forest garden area.
And Don’t About Prolonging the Season When You Can Eat Soft Fruit in Other Ways
The methods mentioned above are all about prolonging the season when you can harvest and eat soft fruit fresh. But it is also important to remember that you can also prolong the season when you can eat it by finding ways to preserve your crop.
One easy way to prolong the season when you can eat fresh fruit is simply to freeze a proportion of your crop. If you have freezer space, you can freeze soft fruits on trays and defrost them to use in a wide range of different ways later in the year.
Another option is drying the fruits. A number of soft fruits respond well to dehydration, and will store for a lot longer when processed in this way. You can dehydrate the whole fruits of some varieties, and partially dehydrate fruit purées to make fruit leathers.
You can also can soft fruits, and turn them into a range of jams, jellies and other preserves. There are a huge range of great recipes and techniques to consider.
Which soft fruits do you grow where you live? Do you use a polytunnel to boost your yield or expand the length of your harvest? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.