The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Overhauling the soft fruit border

water lily in newt pondBeside the chicken run is a stretch of border. Roughly twenty five feet long and six feet deep. The newt pond lies on the outer edges of the left hand side and is six feet in diameter. Last week I slipped on the edge and fell in. I damaged my left hand, especially the thumb, and one welly filled with water. As I am strapped for time at the moment, I just emptied the welly and carried on working.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening I wondered whether the little red worms that I’ve seen in the pond were sashaying up my left leg. I also considered the possibility of leeches in the UK. The lining of a Wellington boot looks very thin. The squelching indicated that it’s highly absorbent.

I was overhauling our soft fruit border. Each year I plan to dig it over and net it. I am always seduced by the main herbaceous border – planting new stuff and tending old friends. This year the saving 25% challenge dictates that I tend and harvest all our soft fruit. No sharing with the squirrels, birds and Dr Quito who is a passionate strawberry guzzler. The raspberries are already protected in their own cage. Last week it was the turn of the other soft fruit. No tempting packs of red currants for our grog will lie in a trolley pushed by me. They’ll be harvested from this sunny stretch this summer.

Every berry that we grow has to have the chance to swell and take its place in the cast of millions. Planning their future distracted me from the hard, heavy task. Like an efficient casting agent, I plotted their parts in the Cottage Smallholder 2008 epic with care. Some will star in redcurrant jelly, others in dessert gooseberry gin. A few will participate in strawberry tarts and entertain us in vodka over winter. If we have goose at Christmas it will be accompanied by lashings of homemade gooseberry sauce. White currant and elderflower jellies would be a refreshing finale to a summer supper beside the pond. As my imagination raced my fork dug deep between the bushes.

The problem was that the bindweed had got a grip in this sleepy corner of the garden. I discovered that ours seem to have been on a basket weaving course. The patch was dug and sifted four times, which was difficult with my invalided thumb. Claw hand was deployed. The small garden incinerator performed with the poise I’d expect from an old trooper. I combined the bindweed with dry, combustible weeds and lit it late. Overnight it did its job in a gentle crackling, smoky sort of way. We have another four nights of burning ahead.

It satisfies the pyrotechnic in me. An intriguing diversion from digging. After three days, my thumb can now grip and I am racing ahead.

Our soft fruit patch now hosts a Tayberry and a small Japanese red fruited climber. These will twist through the roses on the red brick wash house walls. Beneath are gooseberries, red and white currants, an army of strawberry plants that I have transplanted from various parts of the garden. The latter looked a bit wilted this morning but a good soak revived them and they had perked up by dusk.

There are also a lot of frogs in the pond. Rousted from their resting places with a wave of a fork. I have scattered fertiliser and used our richest compost, from the superior bin, as a mulch around each bush.

Neglect has its rewards. I discovered that we have three self seeded baby bushes. Two gooseberries and a white currant.

The poles and the netting are waiting in the wings. I’ll wake early one morning this week, creep downstairs and construct the cage. Fuelled by a large mug of tea and enormous hope.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Debbie

    The baby runners that are growing off your strawbery plants can be potted up and will become your strawberry plants for next year. I leve them in the ground as it is very mild in the South East.

    I keep my old plants in the beds for 2 or 3 years. They die down but reappear in the spring.

  2. Hi

    What do we do with this years strawberry plants?
    I have mine in a tub, can i move it into the shed to keep for next year or will it die?
    I have long strands coming off it, can this be used as a cutting for next year?
    I can’t plant it in the garden as i have dogs………….. and MOLES!!


  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kate(uk)

    I’m so lucky to have this space.

    I discovered recently like birds like to eat the unripe fruit – this was the kick up the backside that I needed to net the area!

    Very hard not to spring out of bed at five! If I did this I’d need an afternoon nap – fine at the weekends. Not so good if I’m decorating…

    I’m getting stuff done in the evenings. Very therapeutic at this time of year.

    Hi Kay

    I’m considering moving our Loganberry into the fruit cage too. It suffers from the same problem as your Tayberry. Birds and dogs wolf them down.

    I tried a thornless blackberry a few years ago and it didn’t thrive. We have quite a few in the garden. Some have large, lush fruit and a lot have small mean almost bitter tasting fruit.

  4. Me again, with my allotment rather than literary hat on. We have a tayberry which makes a splendid contribution to summer puddings, but we don’t ever get enough fruit from it because the birds and dogs eat the berries:, the dogs the lower ones, the birds the upper. We have a thornless blackberry too – less than ideal I have to say, as there’s nothing to deter passers-by helping themselves, not even a thorn to teach them a lesson!

  5. Kate(uk)

    Very hard not to get out into the garden any time after it gets light when the weather is like today- May/June early mornings in the garden=sheer bliss.Oh for enough room to grow soft fruit…also slightly fewer blackbirds, I’ve toyed with the idea of slipping some fruit bushes into the flower beds, but there are at least five blackbirds using my back garden so I suspect even getting up REALLY early in the morning to pick the fruit would not guarantee success!

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